Heading into their difficult Week 6 matchup with the Ravens, there’s a general consensus that the Cowboys need to control the clock and try to sneak out a win in Baltimore. The truth is that what the Cowboys do best on offense—pass the ball—coincides with the weakness of the Ravens’ defense. Cornerback Ladarius Webb and free safety Ed Reed are big-time play-makers, but the rest of Baltimore’s pass defense is suspect and should be challenged. I’ll take my chances with Dez Bryant on Cary Williams over Dallas trying to consistency rush the ball right into the waiting arms of Haloti Ngata and the league’s fifth-most efficient run defense all day.
DO trust in Dez Bryant.
Despite recording only the second 100-yard receiving game of his career against the Bears, Bryant let the offense down with mental mistakes and drops. He’s still the top explosive threat on the team, however, and Tony Romo needs to keep going back to his developing wide receiver. There’s a prevailing belief that Bryant has been a bust through two NFL seasons; while he hasn’t necessarily lived up to his draft spot, he’s still on pace for over 1,000 yards this year. Plus, his 11.6 percent career touchdown rate suggests the scores will come.
One of the reasons you’ll see Bryant heavily involved in this week’s game plan is that he figures to be matched up on cornerback Cary Williams quite a bit. Williams, allowing 10.46 YPA, won’t be able to stop Bryant. I broke down the Bryant-Williams matchup earlier in the week.
DO call a lot of “12” personnel.
One of the strengths of the Ravens’ defense is their nickel personnel. They utilize it on 56.0 percent of snaps, bringing lengthy cornerback Jimmy Smith onto the field and moving Webb into the slot. By passing on early downs from “12” personnel—one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers—the ‘Boys can exploit Baltimore’s bigger packages.
DON’T run the ball inside.
Outside of the fact that all three Cowboys interior linemen have had trouble opening holes for running back DeMarco Murray, the Ravens’ top defender—Haloti Ngata—also lurks inside. Ngata plays all along the defensive front, and he’s the biggest threat to the Cowboys’ offense on Sunday.
One way to potentially negate Ngata in the running game is to call counters away from him. Over the past three seasons, Dallas has averaged 7.2 YPC on over 100 counters. That’s an insane number, so naturally Jason Garrett has dialed up just one counter all season.
DO run more playaction.
There’s a mistaken belief that you need to run the ball often to set up playaction passes. The truth is that you don’t really need to “set up” playaction at all—defensive players are programmed to play the run in certain situations, so showing it can get them to bite up.
However, an efficient running game can really help teams get the ball downfield through the air. Garrett doesn’t need to maintain balance in the early portions of Sunday’s game, but he does need to find a way to get the offense to run the ball more effectively. Outside runs from “11” personnel and pass-oriented formations should help, allowing the team to better utilize their playaction passes.