Dallas @ Baltimore: Cowboys won't hold the line as Ravens return

Dallas Cowboys in action
Dallas need the win when they face Baltimore

The Cowboys head to Baltimore for a one-off Tuesday night game but their struggling offence will have to match up with Lamar Jackson's return, writes Mark Kirwan...

"The Dallas defence has improved as they've become familiar with the system and gotten healthier, but the offence is not competitive without its QB and several missing members of its offensive line."

Dallas Cowboys @ Baltimore Ravens
Wednesday, 01:05
Live on Sky Sports NFL

Cowboys bucked

The Cowboys have enjoyed an unscheduled mini-bye and will be hoping they've used it to turn around their fortunes.

This game was due to be played last Thursday, a week on from the Cowboys embarrassing Thanksgiving day 41-16 defeat on home astroturf against Washington.

They went into that game as a favourite following a win in Minnesota that looked likely to herald a turn around in their disappointing season.

The combination of a new coaching staff, new schemes, injuries and Covid restrictions hobbled their defence through the opening weeks. Dak Prescott was posting huge numbers but Mike McCarthy found his new team 2-4 following a win over the talent-poor Saquon-less Giants when Prescott broke his leg.

Things only got worse from there, with the Cowboys 1-5 since, and struggling to generate offence consistently, despite possessing a star running back in Ezekiel Elliott and a range of receivers - Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ceedee Lamb - that would be the envy of most other teams.

The Dallas defence has improved as they've become familiar with the system and gotten healthier, but the offence is not competitive without its QB and several missing members of its offensive line.

Zack Martin returned against the Vikings and Zeke had his first 100-yard rushing game. He was injured in the opening minutes of the Washington game and Dallas fell to pieces.

He's not expected back for weeks. That's a bad sign for any fans of America's team, who still have a shot at the playoffs in a terrible NFC East.

Baltimore returns

Where Dallashave had 11 days rest since the Washington defeat, the Ravens last played on Wednesday against the Steelers in the middle of the afternoon.

Despite the chopping and changing of that game - both the time as well as the Baltimore team - the Ravens acquitted themselves better than a team with such a disrupted build-up had any right to do.

The largest share of the credit must go to their secondary for making that a game. They were unscathed by the Covid-19 outbreak that riddled Baltimore's line-up and kept Pittsburgh's offence in check for the most part. Big Ben et al finished on top, 19-14, but a team that relied on RGIII and Trace McSorley at quarterback had no right to be so close.

This week, they'll have Lamar Jackson back starting, as well as their running backs, Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams could be back on the defensive line, and DJ Fluker is in contention to boost their offensive line too.

The Ravens have had similar turmoil to the Cowboys' this season. Ronnie Stanley is out for the year and Marshall Yanda's retirement in the offseason didn't help. It's slowed down their running game and limited their offence that dominated the league in 2019.

If the 6-5 Ravens are to make the incredibly competitive AFC playoffs this season, they need to start moving the ball more efficiently and pick up wins against teams like the Cowboys.

The Picks

Until the Cowboys under Coach McCarthy show they can cope when their previously celebrated offensive line is at less than full-strength I find it very difficult to trust them.

Against Washington, the whole game plan fell apart in the first quarter when both Zack Martin and Cam Irving were hurt. Those strokes of poor fortune set the scene for some sclerotic play-calling and comic mishaps later in the game.

With the return of a starting QB, running backs, linemen and defensive players for Baltimore, it's hard to look beyond the home team.

This is a game both teams need to win for their playoff hopes, but you could say that about every other game the Cowboys have played this season. It hasn't made much of a difference so far. I'd take the Ravens -8.5 at 10/11.

Andy Dalton isn't the worst back-up QB to be rolling with, but he needs to be protected, and I don't expect the line to help much here. Baltimore held off Pittsburgh's offence last week and can pull the same trick against a team that's only scored more than 19 points in one of their last six games. That suggests 45 points could be a struggle for the Total at 10/11.

I'd look at Gus Edwards for a touchdown interest. JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram are both back to take carries in the Ravens backfield, but Edwards will still have a role too and, at 11/1 for the first score and 12/5 anytime, represents a decent shot while the other backs get up to speed.

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