Battle Plans: Cowboys vs. Ravens

Flacco v Cowboys

Offense 

1. Two tight ends to secure the edges  

The Ravens have been getting killed off the edges and relief is certainly not under way in the next two matchups. In Baltimore’s immediate view is the imposing DeMarcus Ware. Arguably the best pass rusher in the game, Ware is someone that moves around quite a bit, and the Baltimore pass protectors need to be aware. Moreover, while Anthony Spencer isn’t nearly as explosive as Ware, he is still a dangerous rusher.

This could be a game in which the tackles get plenty of help from chippers and extra blockers. Specifically, the two tight end set may be a staple to impede Ware and Spencer’s path off tackle. Bottom line: The Ravens need to use tighter formations and keep the open, spread looks to a minimum.

2. Stick to singles and doubles

Again, we stick with the baseball theme as an analogy to Baltimore’s offensive approach. Right now, the passing attack is more geared to hitting home runs as opposed to quick-hitting passes. The result has been Flacco holding the ball longer to wait for routes to unfurl, while the offensive line hasn’t been able to sustain their blocks.

It’s time to shorten the passing attack and Flacco’s drops against a tough downfield pass defense. And with more two tight end sets, quick outs and crossers should be in play for Pitta and Dickson to defuse Dallas’ pass rush.

3. Take a shot or two   

While the Ravens would be better served trying to nickel and dime the Dallas defense with their intermediate passing game, they still need to take at least two or three deep shots against the dynamic corner tandem of Maurice Claiborne and Brandon Carr.

Both corners are physical and aggressive, and with the amount of man coverage they’ll play, they could be vulnerable to a PI penalty or two.

Defense

1. Move the chess pieces    

Quarterback Tony Romo is someone who can light up a defense when he gets a bead on the opponent’s scheme. But when he’s on his heels, he can make some terrible decisions. The key is to keep Romo guessing.

The Ravens need to keep their fronts and coverages shifting as often as possible to force Romo to audible at the line of scrimmage. With the crowd noise and Romo not being on the same page with his receivers, mistakes could be plentiful.

In particular, both safeties should be jumping in and out of Cover 1, Cover 2, and Cover 3 looks right before the snap so Romo doesn’t get the right keys.

2. Penetration kills

To disrupt any running game, the front line has to control the action up front. If they aren’t able to get off blocks, any running back will find clean lanes to the second level of the defense.

Last week, the Ravens struggled to keep Charles from consistently getting to the second level in the first half of the game. Once the front line started shedding blocks and getting into the backfield, Charles was held to just 15 yards rushing in the second half.

DeMarco Murray is a different type of runner than Charles—he won’t challenge the backside as Charles did last Sunday—but if he gets gaping holes to run through, he’ll strike the defense just the same. The front line needs to win the battle up front and split gaps against a Dallas offensive line that is struggling to open holes.

3. Lights out    

Winning a football game often comes down to imposing your physical will on the opponent. In a pressure cooker situation for the Cowboys, the Ravens need to hit hard and keep hitting all game.

In particular, the Dallas receivers aren’t the most physical group and if they take enough titanic shots, the Dallas ship may sink quickly in M&T Bank Stadium.

One-on-One Matchup of the Week

Brandon Carr vs. Anquan Boldin

It’s clear that the action is going to be outside the hash marks when the Baltimore receivers tangle with Dallas’ terrific corners. Both Boldin and Carr won’t back down at the line of scrimmage. Boldin has been able to win more often in jump ball situations than Torrey Smith. He’s got the size and frame to snare the ball, even when it isn’t thrown perfectly.

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