Week Six Ravens Opponent Preview: Dallas Cowboys
DALLAS HAS ONE OF NFL'S MOST HEFTY RESUMES
By Joe Platania
What: Week Six
When: 1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 14
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore (71,008)
Records: Cowboys, 2-2; Ravens, 4-1
TV: WBFF-TV, Channel 45 (Sam Rosen, Brian Billick, booth; Laura Okmin, sidelines)
Radio: WIYY-FM, 97.9 (Gerry Sandusky, Qadry Ismail, Stan White)
ABOUT THE COWBOYS
- Even though the Cowboys have lost seven of nine postseason games since 1995, they still have managed to compile, during 52 full seasons, one of the NFL's most stellar track records: a co-NFL-record eight Super Bowl appearances, five championships, 21 division titles -- the third-highest total in NFL history -- and 30 total playoff appearances. Dallas has also finished .500 or better 36 times.
- The Cowboys franchise was born in 1960 as the NFL attempted to answer the fledgling American Football League's attempt to put a team in Dallas. Within a few years, the AFL's Texans had moved to Kansas City and become the Chiefs.
- Dallas is either tied or has a lifetime series advantage against 25 of the other 31 current NFL teams, staying even or dominating every NFC team and trailing only against Baltimore (0-3), Cleveland (12-17), Denver (5-6), Jacksonville (2-3), Miami (6-7) and Oakland (4-6). The Cowboys are tied with San Francisco, St. Louis, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. They are 86-66 all-time against AFC teams, but 33-39 against the AFC North.
- Because of its advantages against most teams, Dallas' all-time win percentage of 57.3 is second all-time only to the Chicago Bears (57.9). Dallas is one of 12 clubs to have at least 450 lifetime wins. Since the 1970 merger, the Cowboys are one of three NFL teams to have a winning road record (50.6), trailing only Miami and San Francisco.
- Despite what seems to be a lot of nationwide animosity toward the Cowboys, the team has played in front of 162 straight sellout crowds, home and away, and in 360 of their last 362 games, including postseason.
- If the Cowboys should miss the playoffs this year, it would mark the third consecutive campaign that would end without a postseason berth. That is not taken lightly in Dallas, where the longest stretches without a Cowboys playoff appearance are a mere six years (1960-65, the first years of the team's existence), as well as a five-year run (1986-90).
- In 2011, the Cowboys got off to a 7-4 start before going 1-4 down the stretch -- including two losses to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants -- to finish 8-8 for the first time since 1999. They lost five leads during the fourth quarter last year, including three double-digit advantages.
- The Cowboys are off to a 2-2 start this year and are the only opponent the Ravens are facing that is coming off a bye week. Dallas is 16-7 after a bye, but has lost two straight. Sunday's game marks the first during a rough post-bye stretch for Dallas, as it is playing four of its next five games on the road. Later this season, the Cowboys will have a six-game stretch that includes five home games, part of which is a three-game run that includes two intra-divisional opponents.
- Dallas was the last city in the NFL in which the Ravens played for the first time, winning the final game ever played at Texas Stadium, 33-24, in December 2008. The Cowboys are one of two teams that have never beaten the Ravens; the Houston Texans (0-6, including postseason) are the other. Dallas has played no team fewer than the three times it has faced Baltimore.
- Sunday's game will mark the third time during four games that the Ravens and Cowboys will meet in Baltimore. Dallas was a 27-0 shutout victim during the Ravens' 2000 championship season and was also blown out four years later, 30-10.
- The Cowboys won five of eight games against the Baltimore Colts, losing to them in Super Bowl V. But because the Ravens are 3-0 against Dallas -- winning those games by a combined 90-34 score -- the Cowboys are 5-6 against Baltimore-based teams.
- Through the season's first five weeks, the Cowboys are ranked 16th in total offense (29th rushing, fourth passing, 30th scoring) and fourth in overall defense (15th vs. rush, first vs. pass at 169.5 yards per game allowed, down from 244.1 last year, 13th scoring). The Cowboys have been 15th or better on offense every year since 2002, and at that same level on defense during seven of the last nine years.
- On third-down conversion plays, the Cowboys are hitting at a 39.6 percent rate (17th in the league), while allowing them at a 35.8 percent pace (tied for 12th). They have a possession average of 30 minutes, 26 seconds, but what has hurt the most is turnovers and the lack of creating them. The Cowboys have just one interception and a -7 ratio, tied for the league's second worst.
- In the red zone, Dallas is 21st with a 45 percent touchdown rate. Defensively, the Cowboys have allowed only nine opponents' trips inside their 20-yard line -- the second fewest in the league -- and have yielded four touchdowns for a 44 percent clip.
- The Cowboys are averaging 16 points per game, and their four-game total of 65 is tied with Jacksonville for the league low. They have scored just seven first-quarter points all season; the third quarter has also been a sore point, as they have been outscored, 28-13. They have scored less than 20 during their last three games.
- The biggest culprit as to why a talented offense is underperforming might sound familiar to Ravens fans: a quick abandonment of the run game, especially during the Cowboys' losses to Seattle and Chicago. The Cowboys have run the ball 79 times and attempted to pass it 169 times, making them the fourth-most pass-happy team in the league.
- Head coach Jason Garrett (15-13 overall), in his second full season at the helm, was a productive backup quarterback for the Cowboys and, for a four-season stretch (2007-10), the team's offensive coordinator. It was after just one season in that job -- when Dallas scored 455 points and posted a 13-3 record -- that he interviewed for the Ravens' vacant head-coaching position.
- Quarterback Tony Romo (66.9 percent completions, five touchdowns, eight interceptions, eight sacks, 78.5 rating) is personally responsible for 10 of the team's 11 turnovers, with two lost fumbles and eight interceptions, five during the team's pre-bye loss to Chicago. But he did throw his 154th career touchdown, passing Navy graduate Roger Staubach for third on the Cowboys' all-time list.
- Romo's completion percentage is right where it was last year, but it would have been 75 percent if not for his teammates' dropped passes. Romo did have a 12-game stretch last year when he had seven giveaways and 24 touchdowns.
- Drops continue to plague the Cowboys. Tight end Jason Witten is tied for the NFL lead with five and wideout Dez Bryant has four. The team has 12 drops so far this year, tied for the ninth most in the league.
- Witten has 717 career catches, third most among tight ends, and is the team co-leader (with Bryant) with 21 grabs this year. The seven-time Pro Bowl pick, who had a lacerated spleen during the preseason, had 13 catches against Chicago and needs just 33 more receptions to tie Michael Irvin for the all-time Dallas record. Bryant is averaging nearly 13 yards per catch.
- Slot receiver Miles Austin, battling a hamstring problem, is third on the team with 18 catches, averaging 16.7 yards per catch and scoring three touchdowns. He has either a touchdown catch or a 100-yard stat line during seven of his last eight games. University of Virginia alum Kevin Ogletree has 17 grabs, including a 40-yard touchdown during the Week One win against the New York Giants.
- Running back DeMarco Murray set a Dallas club record with 253 yards against St. Louis last year, including a 91-yard touchdown on his first career carry, which no post-merger back had ever done. This year, Murray has 237 yards on a nearly 4-yard average, with one touchdown. His lead blocker is former Cleveland and Houston starter Lawrence Vickers, who has played against the Ravens 12 times, but with only two wins.
- The offensive-line overhaul has helped to some degree; Romo has been sacked only nine times. But right tackle Doug Free and left tackle Tyron Smith are among the NFL's co-leaders with six penalties each and have combined for nine false starts, a possible problem in loud stadiums such as Baltimore's. The Cowboys have 33 penalties from 17 different players, fewer than the Ravens (42 from 23).
- The Cowboys tried to boost their line with free-agent pickups Nate Livings (from Cincinnati) and Mackenzy Bernardeau (Carolina) to play the guard spots. Ryan Cook is a young center who replaced Phil Costa (back injury) after the first week, but all told, eight of 11 offensive starters have taken the field for all four games.
- After using 14 different packages last year, Dallas' pass defense has been stellar; its press-coverage scheme has allowed no completion longer than 39 yards all year thanks in part to free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million) and top draftee Morris Claiborne.
- Carr and Claiborne haven't had to make many tackles; in fact, Claiborne's total of 12 is eighth on the team, leading all defensive backs. Nickel back Orlando Scandrick has more pass breakups (three) than the starters. Veteran Gerald Sensabaugh and Danny McCray are the starters at safety.
- Linebacker DeMarcus Ware continues to be one of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the league; he has nine pressures and five sacks this year (104 career), 30.5 during his last 23 games and an NFL-high 96.5 sacks since 2006. During his past two games, he has three sacks and three forced fumbles. He forced two fumbles and had a sack during his most recent game against the Ravens, in 2008.
- Weak-side linebacker Sean Lee leads the team in tackles, with 63, and has the team's only interception. Outside man Anthony Spencer, who is nursing a shoulder problem, has 29 tackles, nine pressures and two sacks and second-year middle man Bruce Carter has 24 stops.
- Up front, nose tackle Jay Ratliff should return from an ankle problem this week, as should tackle Kenyon Coleman (knee). Tackle Jason Hatcher has 21 tackles and four quarterback pressures. The unit is deep, with former starter Marcus Spears listed as Coleman's backup and promising youngsters Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore (20 tackles).
- The Cowboys are the rare team that has two punters, but it's because both are battling injuries. Chris Jones (left knee) is netting 40.7 yards per punt and former Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl punter Brian Moorman (right groin) has gotten off just three kicks this year. Second-year placekicker Dan Bailey was 32-for-37 on field goals last year, including 26 in a row. He is 5-for-5 so far in 2012.
- Bryant is the team's main punt returner, but his seven runbacks have netted a mere 6.4-yard average. Backup running back Felix Jones has run back 11 kickoffs at a 21.5-yard pace, another below-average figure.
- The coverage teams have been good, holding opponents to 5 yards per punt runback -- with no return longer than 9 yards -- and 18.5 per kick return. Tight ends James Hanna and John Phillips each have four special-teams tackles.
- Long snapper Louis-Philippe Ladouceur has been with the Cowboys for seven years and has not had one go awry in all 1,037 snaps he has thrown back for the team (508 punts, 219 field goals, 310 conversions).
- Cowboys defensive line coach Brian Baker was born in Baltimore and played linebacker at the Maryland from 1981-83. He then worked on the Terps' coaching staff in 1984 and 1985. Strength coach Mike Woicik is also a Baltimore native. Center Phil Costa (Maryland) is the only player with local ties.
- Other coaching-staff notables include defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (brother of Rex), gaffe-prone former defensive tackle Leon Lett (defensive assistant), Skip Peete (running backs, brother of ex-NFL quarterback Rodney) and Wes Phillips (OL assistant, son of ex-Dallas head coach Wade).
- Among the many celebrities Cowboys fans are actor Jamie Foxx, baseball star Josh Hamilton and NBA standout LeBron James.
PREDICTION: The Cowboys were counting on an improved defense to carry them back to the playoffs. But they can't afford any more turnovers, especially with the Ravens tough enough to beat at home ... Ravens 24, Cowboys 23.
Posted Oct. 12, 2012