1:00 PM ET, October 14, 2012
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
The Dallas Cowboys have been off since an embarrassing prime-time performance that prompted talk they could miss the playoffs for a third straight season.
In reality, they're just slightly off the pace in the NFC East, but the next month-long stretch could determine if they are, in fact, a contender.
The Cowboys open a difficult portion of the schedule Sunday against a Baltimore Ravens team that hasn't lost a regular-season home game in nearly two years.
Dallas (2-2) went into its bye week reeling after Tony Romo matched a career worst with five interceptions in a 34-18 home loss to Chicago on Oct. 1. Romo and receiver Dez Bryant seemed out of sync and the Bears returned two of the picks for touchdowns.
"This has to be a wakeup call for us," Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten said
The Cowboys, one of the league's lowest-scoring teams with an average of 16.3 points, return from their bye only one-half game back of Philadelphia and New York in the division.
"We're not going to quit," Witten said. "We're going to stay together. I believe we have the right people. Great leadership in Jason (Garrett). We'll get it turned around."
Dallas must do so quickly with four of its next five games on the road, with four contests against division leaders -- Atlanta, Philadelphia, the Giants and Ravens (4-1).
Like the Cowboys, Baltimore didn't look particularly sharp in its last game, but still managed to beat Kansas City 9-6 last Sunday.
The Ravens failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 43 regular-season games and the defense allowed 214 rushing yards, its most since Oct. 5, 1997, against Pittsburgh. Despite the struggles, the offense got two key first downs to chew up the final 4:24 of clock and the defense stepped up when it mattered, keeping the Chiefs out of the end zone.
"There are a lot of things we're not pleased with," coach John Harbaugh said. "We're chasing our A-game every week. We want to have our A stuff. It's like a pitcher, we want to have our best stuff every week. We didn't have our best stuff."
A return to Baltimore might help the Ravens get their swagger back.
Harbaugh's team has won 13 straight regular-season home games, the NFL's longest active streak, and Joe Flacco and the offense have looked considerably better in front of their fans.
In this season's three home games, Baltimore has averaged 32.7 points and 457.0 yards with two total turnovers. In two road games, the Ravens have combined for 32 points with an average 311.5 yards while turning the ball over twice in each.
Flacco, who completed 48.1 percent of his passes for a season-low 187 yards in Kansas City, is averaging 345.7 passing yards with six TDs in Baltimore.
While Flacco struggled last week, Ray Rice finished with a season-best 102 rushing yards on 17 carries. Since 2010, the Ravens are 10-0 when he runs for at least 100 yards.
The Cowboys have allowed an opposing rusher to reach 80 only once in the last seven games but have struggled mightily with their own ground game, entering Week 6 ranked 29th in the NFL with an average of 67.8 rushing yards. DeMarco Murray ran for 131 yards on 20 carries in a season-opening 24-17 victory over the Giants, but he's since been held to 106 on 41 attempts.
Most of the Cowboys' troubles, however, fall on their quarterback's shoulders.
Although Romo is completing 66.9 percent of his passes and is on pace for a career-high 4,592 yards passing, he has an NFC-high eight interceptions -- only two fewer than he had in 522 attempts last season. He passed for 252 yards with two touchdowns and two INTs in his only career game against Baltimore, a 33-24 home loss in 2008.
The veteran Ravens defense, led by 37-year-old Ray Lewis, have six picks on the year and have forced 12 turnovers, fourth-most in the NFL through Week 5.
"You know they're going to be physical. They play that way. That's their style," Cowboys defensive lineman Marcus Spears said of the Ravens. "Obviously they've been playing great ball for a while. But we've got to go up there and handle our business. It's not about them, it's about us."
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• Control the tempo on the road: The Cowboys tend to get pass-happy but would be smart to pound the rock this week. The Ravens have been inconsistent (allowing 214 yards versus the Chiefs in Week 5) defending the run. Dallas is ranked 29th (68 yards per game) in the league rushing but has a talented backfield. Look for Jason Garrett to make a concerted effort to control the tempo of the game on the ground by getting the ball to DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones.
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|Avg Points Allowed||23.8||19.7|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||DAL|
|Rush Yds Allowed||DAL|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Baltimore leads 3-0|
|Dec 20, 2008||DAL 24, BAL 33|
|Nov 21, 2004||DAL 10, @BAL 30|
NEXT LEVEL: The Dallas Cowboys and the number one pass defense in the NFL will face off against the high-flying Ravens who lead the NFL in average pass length downfield this season. The Cowboys have been physical with opposing receivers allowing 0.9 yards after contact per reception, the best mark among NFL defenses. The Ravens will try to use speed and take the top off the Dallas secondary as the NFL leaders with an average downfield target depth of 10.8 yards.
The Cowboys have used three-plus wide receiver formations on 57.3 percent of their plays this season, up from 36.4 percent last season. The Cowboys have been predictable from these sets this season, dropping back to pass 89.4 percent of the time, second-highest in the NFL.[+]
Tony Romo Passing From 3+ WR Formations - Last 2 Seasons
ESPN Stats & Information