ARLINGTON, Texas – This week is going to work a little bit differently¸ thanks to the short schedule for Thanksgiving.
Right after the Cowboys finished off their 27-17 win against Baltimore, I went back to my office at The Star and got to work on the game tape. Here are my top impressions from the Ravens film.
Immediately after posting this, I'm going to get to work on the tape for the rematch with Washington. The short week schedule isn't easy on anyone – and that includes the media.
So with that in mind, this is what jumped off the tape from Sunday's game against Baltimore.
- I thought the offensive play that turned this game around for the Cowboys was the 2nd-and-18 pass to Dez Bryant. Two things made that pass work: the empty formation forced Eric Weddle to have to cover Lance Dunbar in the slot, and the free access in the route by Shareece Wright allowed Bryant to get inside. When Weddle went with Dunbar inside, that left Bryant one-on-one with Wright, who had no help to the inside. The Ravens' other safety, Lardarius Webb, was shaded to the other side of the formation and it gave Bryant the confidence that he could get inside and make the play uncontested. Prescott put the ball right where he had to at eye level for Bryant and he was able to do the rest.
- Scott Linehan knew the Ravens were going to double Dez Bryant in the red zone. With the ball on the left hash, he called a play that moved the pocket to the open side of the field with Dak Prescott. On the "dash" to the right, Jason Witten stayed in to that side to secure the corner. Witten was able to hold off Albert McClellan long enough to get Prescott to the edge. Cole Beasley lined up behind Terrance Williams to the side that Prescott sprinted. The Ravens doubled Williams with Lardarius Webb and Tavon Young. That left Beasley working on Jerraud Powers one-on-one near the front corner of the end zone. Powers made the mistake of taking a peek at Prescott instead of staying with Beasley – and Beasley made a move to free himself. Once Beasley felt Powers out of position, he adjusted his route to the outside in order to give Prescott a small window to deliver the ball, which he was able to do for the score.
- I can't say enough about the play Anthony Brown made in the third quarter with the defense trying to get off the field. Mike Wallace drove Brown off the ball a good five yards past the first down marker. Brown, playing with leverage, felt Wallace stop and start to work downhill back to the ball. Brown, in transition, planted his right foot down and exploded to Wallace's extended hands. Joe Flacco put the ball in the perfect spot for Wallace to make the reception, but Brown arrived at the exact same time and kept his left arm off Wallace while playing the ball with his right hand to knock it to the ground.
- The identity of this Cowboys defense is getting bodies to the ball. It's what has carried this team during this nine-game winning streak. Cedric Thornton has not had a huge season by any means, but he has played well in his rotational role. His only tackle of the day was on a play where he had to run down a Ravens receiver 15 yards down the field. What was even more amazing than his tackle on Mike Wallace was that he had the presence of mind to rip the ball out of his hands. If Kamar Aiken hadn't beaten Byron Jones to the football, the defense was going to get a turnover at midfield with a tie score and a short field to work with. It's a play that might not have meant much at the time, but I promise: in the film room, Rod Marinelli is going to point out Cedric Thornton's effort and finish on the play.
- Instead of going "big on big" with their blocking, the Ravens tried to get cute by blocking DeMarcus Lawrence with a tight end -- Dennis Pitta. The Cowboys came with a blitz off the strong side from Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson. Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda picked up the blitzers, leaving Pitta on Lawrence one-on-one. Pitta lunged at Lawrence, which put him off balance. Lawrence was easily able to swim around him to take a run at Flacco, who didn't feel him until it was too late. Lawrence was able to extend his right hand into the ball, causing it to flutter in the air. J.J. Wilcox had the best chance to make the interception, but his momentum was carrying him forward and he wasn't able to come down with a pick.
- There was no question that this was going to be a difficult game for the Cowboys to run the ball in. If you look at Ezekiel Elliott's final numbers, he averaged less than 3.8 yards a carry -- which was right about what the Ravens averaged giving up on the ground to opponents. Elliott's long run of the day was 14 yards, and it was the best blocked running play of the game. The Cowboys had six blockers for seven Ravens defenders. Tyron Smith destroyed Terrell Suggs, then blocked C.J. Mosley to the outside. Ronald Leary was able to take Brandon Williams and widen him to allow Elliott to make the cut. Travis Frederick passed Michael Pierce off to Zack Martin and then started up the field to block Jerraud Powers on the second level. The only Ravens defender in front of Elliott was Ladarius Webb, who was able to chop him down -- but not before a big gain.
- Loved the design to Terrance Williams on the play where he drew the pass interference call on Tavon Young. It was a perfect location on the field to dial this play up with the ball sitting at midfield. Williams lined in the slot and ran a wheel route behind a 220-pound moving screen in the shape of Dez Bryant. To Young's credit, he somehow managed to fight through Bryant, keep his balance and rally to get back to defend Williams. Prescott got a little late pressure from Brandon Williams but nothing that affected the throw.
- Earlier in the game, the Ravens went with a double "A" gap blitz, which gave Dak Prescott problems. Later, they give him the same look. But instead of coming with the blitz, they decided to drop into coverage and just rush three to clog the field. Prescott knew he only needed five yards, so when he saw their deep drops into zones, he smartly checked the ball down to Ezekiel Elliott, who circled out in the right flat. Elliott didn't run up the field to get the first, but instead cut across -- outrunning five Ravens tacklers in the process. What should have been just a seven-yard gain and a first down turned into a much bigger play due to Prescott's smarts and Elliott's open field ability.
- What a tale of two halves for J.J. Wilcox. He wasn't at his best to open the game with some missed tackles and poor angles to the ball. It reminded me of some of the issues that he had last season, but he was able to pull himself together and make some key plays down the stretch. His tackle on Mike Wallace across the middle with the Ravens facing a 3rd-and-5 was a big stop in the game. The Ravens attempted to pick Orlando Scandrick with Dennis Pitta on the play, as Wallace moved across the field. Wilcox was sitting 15 yards deep in Cover 2 with Jeff Heath opposite. As Wallace started underneath, Wilcox read it the whole way and started to drive to the ball. Wallace tried to adjust, but he has no chance due to Wilcox being right there to deliver the hit on the spot to get the defense off the field.
- As far as I am concerned, you can't throw enough slants to Dez Bryant. His second touchdown of the day was a well-blocked blitz pickup by Lance Dunbar and the offensive line. The Cowboys had six to block seven, which meant that they had to turn the widest rusher loose. That happened to be Matt Elam off the right side, which was the direction that Bryant was running the slant. The line left C.J. Mosley for Dunbar to take, and Dunbar was able to chop Mosley's inside leg, knocking him off balance. By doing this, Dak Prescott had a window to fit the ball inside to Bryant, who had beaten Tavon Young on the route. Once Bryant made the reception, there was no way Young was going to keep him out of the end zone. What a well-executed play on all levels for the touchdown.
- I have to say how happy I was to know that several of our buddies from the UK Cowboys Fan Club were in town to see this Cowboys victory. It was especially nice to know how proud they are of one of their own – Jack Crawford, who played outstanding against the Ravens. The only sack of the day on Flacco came from a rush by Crawford. The Ravens once again tried to use Dennis Pitta in pass protection and Crawford was able to get around the corner quickly on him, then close on Flacco to bring him to the ground.
- Tip of the cap to Tyron Smith and Doug Free for holding Terrell Suggs without a sack, which is no easy chore. The Ravens tried to move him around to create matchup problems for the Cowboys, but despite all that, he was nowhere near the factor I thought he might be. As a matter of fact, Smith knocked him around pretty good in this matchup.