Keys To The Game: Winning On Early Downs; Who Controls The Run Game?

FRISCO, Texas – A look at the two big keys I think will determine this game between the Cowboys and Ravens.

Dallas Cowboys Win If:

When experts like to talk about keys to winning, third down conversions and defense are usually the go-to area they first address. What we have learned about this offense is that how they play on first down sets up how they move the ball.

The Cowboys are the most balanced team in the league when it comes to their run/pass ratios at 50:50. Keeping that ratio is important to them, as is running Ezekiel Elliott on first down to give Dak Prescott that run/pass option on second down, where they are a league-best where 42 percent of the time they are facing a distance of six yards or less.

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens are ranked eighth in the league when it comes to defending the first down run. Opponents have tried to run the ball 100 times while averaging 3.83 yards per attempt. In those attempts, the Ravens have created 13 negative plays, 38 of 0-2 yards, 34 of 3-5 yards and 15 of 6 or more yards. As a defense, they have only allowed 11 rushing plays of 10-plus yards this season.

For Dallas to have success in the running game, especially on first down, it is going to likely be out of their "11" personnel packages. This is the grouping that the Ravens have had the most trouble defending the run. Opponents have run the ball 83 times for 313 yards which comes out to 3.8 per carry.

If the Cowboys are going to win this game, they are going to have to be able to run the ball on first down with success to stay ahead of the chains to keep Dak Prescott on schedule.    

Baltimore Ravens Win If:

The Ravens want to build a quick lead and play from in front. This is how they defeated the Steelers two weeks ago. They rely on their defensive front and their physical presences and mental toughness to win games, especially on the road.

The Ravens want to control the front, run and pass. They want to intimidate their opponents and wear them down defensively. They will do a great job of studying Dak Prescott and this offense. They will know snap counts and work to take advantage of their knowledge. They do a great job of winning on early downs and want to turn this into a third down game, where they are the best in the league allowing opponents to convert 31 percent of the time.

For the Ravens to win this game they are going to need to choke the run. The Ravens want to turn this into a game where they force these Cowboys receivers to have to win on the outside and make Dak Prescott be accurate throwing balls into tight windows -- because they believe they can create turnovers this way.  

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