After countless delays, schedule changes and probably winter hibernations, the Dallas Cowboys played their first NFL game since Thanksgiving Day on Dec. 8. While the reasoning for the hiatus was out of their control (a pandemic shows no preference to any team), the Cowboys’ playoff hopes, while scant to begin with, still remained in their grasp as they headed into M&T Bank Stadium to face off against a struggling Baltimore Ravens team.
While there was some hope for Dallas to pile on Baltimore’s losing skid (the Ravens came into the game as losers of their last three games), all signs of wishful thinking in the Big D disappeared as the clock kept on ticking in the Charm City. The Ravens eventually overwhelmed Dallas, 34-17. Here is my breakdown of the game.
The offense, despite its injury issues on the quarterback and offensive line depth chart, managed to keep it interesting. After all, they managed to have a lead midway through the second quarter (10-7).
Quarterback Andy Dalton was able to put together a decent game against a familiar team from his Cincinnati Bengal days, as the TCU product went 31/48 with 285 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. While the likes of Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper received the majority of the targets (rightfully so), the tandem of Dalton Schultz and Ezekiel Elliott combined for eight receptions and 62 yards on 10 targets. While the numbers were not eye-popping by any stretch of the mind, the passing and receiving attack, combined with Elliott’s rushing capabilities (he rushed for 77 yards on 18 carries), they kept Dallas relatively competitive.
Relatively competitive, of course, is a moral victory and nothing else. Moral victories and positive signs on the offensive side of the ball did not net a most-precious win. Without a healthy Dak Prescott and offensive line, though, this is to be expected. Still, Dallas made noise. That has to account for something over the remainder of the season and for 2021, as well.
The good news? Dallas was able to maintain Lamar Jackson’s inability to consistently put together an MVP-caliber passing attack, even though the Baltimore quarterback threw for two passing touchdowns. He did only throw for 107 yards and an interception. The bad news? Baltimore’s rushing barrage, led by Jackson, Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram II, combined for 294 yards and two touchdowns.
At this point of the season, nothing is relatively new. The front-seven, while ripe with solid names (Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith both ring a few bells), has not been consistently able to close off the inside lanes, nor has the secondary, led by Chidobe Awuzie, been able to mitigate the lanes once the opposition breaks through. Although Baltimore’s option-oriented offense might be predictable, it was still too talented and too much for Dallas to stop. Begin checking out college defensive prospects, folks. Dallas might be (more like will be) drafting a few come next year.
Well, well, have the tables turned. While Greg Zuerlein was a steady (and needed) point stalwart for Dallas heading into the game, the 32-year-old kicker had a night to forget. Over the course of the game, Zuerlein went 1/4 in field goal attempts. While he made two extra-point attempts, Zuerlein’s field goal percentage (FG%) of 25% was his worst field goal performance with a minimum of four attempts since Oct. 11, 2015, where Zuerlein also had a FG% of 25% (1/4) against Green Bay. While Dallas relatively held their own in other areas, the kicking, for once, did not live up to expectations, and it came at a cost.
The Cowboys continue their AFC North road swing with a match against the Bengals at “The Jungle” Dec. 13 at 1:00 p.m. EST.