Injuries and reserve/COVID-19 list designations have ravaged the Baltimore Ravens (6-5) in recent weeks, but the team will look much closer to full strength against the Dallas Cowboys (3-8)
Among the many returning for B-More's criticial stretch ahead is Lamar Jackson, who will look to do his thing against the NFL's worst run defense. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton will try to make something shake against a stout D he knows all too well.
Here are four storylines to watch for when the Cowboys and Ravens clash on Tuesday night (8:05 p.m. ET; NFL Network, FOX and Amazon Prime):
Will this game end better than Lamar's last?
His absence lasted only a game but it feels like an eternity since we last saw Jackson, especially considering the way his last series concluded. After taking a big sack during a three-and-out to start OT in Week 11, Jackson could only watch as Tennessee needed one drive to secure a hotly contested win. Even after that disappointing defeat, one has to wonder how he could've swayed Week 12's loss to the Steelers in a game that was much closer than anticipated given the circumstances.
Against Dallas, the No. 2 ranked run game should still be fine, especially with Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins returning from their own COVID-related absences. But, when it comes time to pass, who will fill the Mark Andrews-sized void in the lineup? Perhaps a motivated Dez Bryant, making his first appearance against his old team, will turn back the clock and provide a steady pair of hands. More importantly, now would be a great time for Jackson and Marquise Brown, who turned in a 70-yard catch-and-run score last week, to rekindle their on-field chemistry. In their last four outings together, Brown compiled only six receptions (17 targets) for 55 yards and a TD; his 85-yard Week 12 output was his highest since Week 4 (86). Going up against one of the league's more susceptible defenses should present several opportunities to make plays, and everyone will need to step up to nab a much-needed victory.
Can the Cowboys WRs best Baltimore's secondary?
The Cowboys have fallen well short of their preseason expectations, but the trio of Amari Cooper (848 yards, three TDs), Michael Gallup (538 yards, one TD), and CeeDee Lamb (650 yards, four TDs) has been a bright spot. Dallas is one of three teams (Pittsburgh, Las Vegas) with three players logging 535-plus yards receiving. Six days removed from keeping Ben Roethlisberger mostly in check (266 yards, TD, INT), the Ravens will look to do the same against Dalton, who is quite familiar with this historically stingy D from his Cincinnati days. He's averaged 237 YPG, posted a 6-1 TD-INT ratio and taken three sacks against Baltimore since defensive coordinator Wink Martindale took the reins in 2018. Mainstays Chuck Clark and Jimmy Smith are dealing with lingering injuries that could impact their effectiveness but Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters and DeShon Elliott bring a versatility that allows the Ravens to match up however is needed. If nothing else, the chess match between Martindale and Cowboys OC Kellen Moore should be a fascinating one.
Can the Ravens sustain their playoff push?
From first place to fighting for a spot in the AFC wild card race. That is the path the Ravens have stumbled onto a year removed from their league-wrecking 2019 run. Losers of four of its last five, Baltimore's PPG (20.6) and total YPG (321.0) since its Week 7 bye have been underwhelming. Even more concerning during the Ravens' slump has been the nine combined turnovers, six of which have come from Jackson. The Cowboys rank near the bottom of the NFL in takeaways but guys like Demarcus Lawrence and Xavier Woods still pose a threat. The AFC has been particularly strong, with seven teams -- namely, the Steelers, Browns and Titans -- eclipsing eight wins. In order to have a chance at the postseason, the Ravens will likely need to win out; their remaining schedule aids that charge. A massive MNF game against Cleveland awaits with dates against the Jaguars, Giants and Bengals to follow.
Will vintage Zeke finally show up?
To find a game prior to Week 12 where Ezekiel Elliott rushed for less than 32 yards, you'd have to go all the way back to Week 2, 2017 when he rushed for eight on nine carries. In the midst of one of his worst efforts in the lopsided Thanksgiving loss to Washington, Elliott also coughed up his sixth -- and lost a career-worst fifth -- fumble of the season. Facing the Ravens isn't ideal when talking about bouncing back but there's at least a little wiggle room based on the numbers. Statistically speaking, Baltimore's top-notch defense ranks a tad lower against the run (12th) versus the pass (9th). The key for Elliott will be volume; he's averaged 4.4 YPC and 96 YPG in the three games he's toted the rock 20-plus times. Those marks dip to 3.6 and 52.4, respectively, when he's fallen below that many attempts. Adding more to Zeke's plate against a team that's forced the second-most fumbles (11) does sound like a risk. But, if the makeshift O-line can create lanes against a formidable frontline that's welcoming Calais Campbell back, it could prove effective, so long as Elliott protects the ball.