The Ravens' defense is a good one, but not necessarily a great one anymore. Their pass defense, ranked 22nd in the NFL in terms of efficiency, has some holes in it. Safety Ed Reed and cornerback Lardarius Webb are two of the best in the business, but I think you can throw on fellow secondary players Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams. While it's certainly a long-term goal to get the running game going in Dallas, the Cowboys' largest advantage on Sunday might be through the air.
- The Numbers on Baltimore
The Ravens' secondary starts with free safety Ed Reed. We all know about Reed's ball-hawking ability as Baltimore's "centerfielder" in the back end, but the safety's largest contribution to the defense might be allowing the cornerbacks to play very aggressively underneath. Since Reed possesses so much range, Webb, Williams, and nickel cornerback Jimmy Smith can play without much fear of getting beat deep, knowing the veteran safety has their back. When opposing quarterbacks have tested Reed this year, they've had two balls picked off and registered a combined 28.3 passer rating.
Webb is by far the top cornerback on Baltimore's defense, as evidenced by the 4.04 yards-per-attempt he has allowed in 2012. Webb is versatile enough to move into the slot in the Ravens' nickel defense, a package they have utilized on 56 percent of their snaps this season. In most situations when the Ravens use their nickel personnel, the Cowboys will have Miles Austin lined up in the slot. Thus, Austin has a less-than-ideal matchup this week.
When the Cowboys use "21" and "12" personnel, meaning Austin and Dez Bryant are the only two receivers on the field, Bryant will get his shots against Cary Williams. As long as Bryant can get off of the line, I think it's a battle he can win. I'd love to see the Cowboys pass often from those personnel packages, especially on early downs, to get Bryant matched up on Williams (as opposed to using "11" personnel which would bring Jimmy Smith onto the field, potentially benefiting the Ravens).
Perhaps the most significant advantage the Cowboys will have in the passing game is with tight end Jason Witten. Whether Baltimore wants to place linebacker Ray Lewis (9.55 YPA allowed) or Pollard (10.00 YPA allowed) on Witten, the tight end should win that battle.
In the running game, the Ravens have yielded just 3.5 yards-per-carry in 2012. It sure would be nice to get a little something going on the ground, but the Cowboys might need to run outside to do it. With defensive tackle/end Halti Ngata patrolling the middle of the field, I have doubts that the 'Boys will be able to use DeMarco Murray efficiently on inside runs. Look for more tosses and counters than usual.
- Projected Stat Lines
Tony Romo:25-for-40 for 290 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
DeMarco Murray:16 carries for 65 yards, 3 receptions for 25 yards
Jason Witten:7 receptions for 80 yards, 1 TD
Dez Bryant:5 receptions for 90 yards, 1 TD
Miles Austin:3 receptions for 45 yards
Can the Cowboys win with these individual stat lines? I think they can, but acquiring a big play or two on defense or special teams sure would make things easier. A sleeper for Dallas in this game is Kevin Ogletree, who could get matched up on Williams when he's in the game. If the Ravens bring pressure on Romo as expected, Ogletree could be the recipient of some quick slants, as was the case in the Cowboys' opening win over the Giants.
- Around the League
QB: Alex Smith vs. Giants:The Giants are going to do everything possible to stop Frank Gore. The game's most efficient passer through five weeks should see open receivers in what could be a surprisingly high-scoring game.
RB: Vick Ballard vs. Jets:You can run on the Jets these days, and starting running back Donald Brown is out for a few weeks, making Ballard a sleeper flex play.
WR: Dwayne Bowe vs. Bucs:The Bucs have the worst pass defense in the NFL, and Bowe should be able to get off the press of Aqib Talib.
TE: Brandon Pettigrew vs. Eagles:The Lions figure to be down in this game, forcing them to throw, and all eyes in the Eagles secondary will be on "Megatron."
QB: Robert Griffin III vs. Vikings:Bob Griffin 3 will probably be cleared to play in this one, but he'll have the NFL's fifth-most efficient pass defense waiting for him.
RB: Alfred Morris vs. Vikings:Minnesota has allowed 3.2 YPC and Morris could see a stacked box if the Vikings want to test RGIII's health.
WR: Brandon Lloyd vs. Seahawks:As we saw when the Cowboys headed to Seattle, the Seahawks' pass defense is legit. They're allowing 5.0 net YPA in 2012, the top mark in the NFL.
TE: Martellus Bennett vs. 49ers:Bennett is coming back to reality a bit. You might want to find another option in Week 6 as the Giants head to San Francisco.