Dallas Cowboys: Jacoby Jones
The Ravens couldn't stop the Cowboys from running the ball down their throats. The four Cowboys tailbacks combined for a Baltimore opponent-record 227 yards on 42 carries. The Cowboys entered the game ranked 29th in the NFL with an average of 67.8 rushing yards per game and nearly matched that on the opening drive, which was capped by Felix Jones' 22-yard touchdown, his first score since the 2011 season opener. The oft-criticized offensive line and fullback Lawrence Vickers consistently opened huge holes for DeMarco Murray (14 carries, 93 yards) and Jones (18 carries, 92 yards). The only negative as far as the Dallas running game went Sunday were the injuries sustained by Murray (foot) and Jones (calf).
Dez Bryant and Jason Witten ate up a Ravens secondary that lost arguably its best player, cornerback Lardarius Webb, to a knee injury early in the game. Bryant caught a career-high 13 passes for 95 yards and his first two touchdowns of the season, but his drop on a two-point conversion prevented the Cowboys from tying the score with 32 seconds remaining. Witten had his second consecutive strong game after a horrible start to the season, catching six passes for 88 yards. Tony Romo threw an interception on an ill-advised pass, but he played well enough to put the Cowboys in position to win, completing 25-of-36 passes for 261 yards and two scores.
The Cowboys did a decent job containing Ray Rice, one of the NFL's elite running backs, in the running game. He scored two touchdowns, but he averaged less than four yards a pop, gaining 63 yards on 16 carries. Outside linebacker Alex Albright did a solid job filling in for injured run stuffer Anthony Spencer on most downs in the base defense. Albright's stop of backup running back Bernard Pierce in the backfield forced the Ravens to settle for a field goal on their first drive. Sean Lee was credited for only five tackles, but he was impressive enough for 200-game veteran center Matt Birk to call Lee "one of the best linebackers I've ever played against."
The Cowboys are starving for playmaking in their secondary. Dallas' defensive backs still don't have an interception this season. Mike Jenkins dropped a pass that hit him in the numbers, an especially costly missed opportunity considering Ray Rice had a 43-yard catch and run the next down, the key play in a touchdown drive. This marked the second consecutive game that $50 million cornerback Brandon Carr got beaten on a deep ball, this one a 31-yard catch by Anquan Boldin that set up the Ravens' last touchdown. The Cowboys didn't get enough pressure on Joe Flacco (17-for-26 for 234 yards and a TD), with DeMarcus Ware recording Dallas' lone sack.
Special teams gaffes are killing the Cowboys this season. Baltimore's Jacoby Jones tied an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. "That thing spread like the Red Sea," Jones said of the Cowboys' coverage on the play, when Jones went untouched after Dallas special teams captain Danny McCray got blocked to open up a big lane. Dan Bailey's first missed field goal of the season was a 51-yard attempt with the game on the line. The Cowboys recovered an onside kick to give them a chance to win the game, but that doesn't make up for giving up a touchdown.
Give Jason Garrett credit for a terrific offensive game plan. This was one of his best performances as a play-caller, too, as the Cowboys racked up 481 total yards against the formerly feared Ravens defense. That, however, was overshadowed by Garrett mismanaging the clock at the end of the game, much like he did in last season's loss to the Cardinals. It is inexcusable to settle for a 51-yard field goal attempt with the game on the line after allowing 15 seconds to tick off before calling a timeout. The Cowboys' 13 penalties -- the third time this season they've had that total -- also reflects extremely poorly on Garrett.
BALTIMORE -- The Dallas Cowboys were in desperation mode Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium, and that's not a good thing against a team that doesn't lose to the NFC at home.
The Cowboys had a chance to pull out a win, but Dan Bailey missed a potential game-winning 51-yard field goal with two seconds to play.
Dez Bryant scored on a pass from Tony Romo with 32 seconds remaining but let the ball go through his hands on the two-point conversion try. His pleas for a flag went unanswered, but the Cowboys got another shot when they recovered Bailey's ensuing onside kick.
The Cowboys, coming off a bye week, played their best game of the season, but it wasn't good enough as the Ravens held on for a 31-29 victory.
What it means?: The Cowboys have lost two consecutive games and lose the game after the bye week for a second straight season. It was a tough loss for a Cowboys team that rushed for 227 yards behind four running backs. Still, it was not enough.
Romo's interception turns the tide: In a tie game, Romo was picked off by cornerback Cary Williams with 2:15 to play in the first half. The Ravens took advantage. Joe Flacco found Torrey Smith for a 9-yard touchdown reception to cap a drive and give Baltimore a 17-10 lead. That was the score at halftime and the Cowboys played from behind the rest of the way. Romo's ninth interception of the season set the tone and gave the Ravens momentum.
DeMarco Murray started but was taken out with a foot injury. Murray didn't start in the second half, getting only one carry after halftime. He finished with 93 yards on 14 carries. Felix Jones took over and responded with a solid performance. Jones also left the contest because of dehydration. Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar also picked up carries in the loss.
Record day for special teams: Well, not for the Cowboys. The Ravens' Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, tying the record for the longest kickoff return in NFL history. It was the first time the Cowboys had allowed a kick return for a touchdown since Percy Harvin's 95-yarder in 2010.
What's next?: The Cowboys continue their road trip when they take on Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers next Sunday at noon.
What Phillips really failed to mention was the true inability of his offense to secure down linemen, to get push at the point of attack and not whiff on blocks in space.
Areas that they might have been successful last season but yet to fully grasp in this preseason leave me with cause for concern.
When trying to run the football, it’s about the coordination of offensive linemen and tight ends. It’s about a fullback hitting a linebacker square and not on the edge. It’s about the backs running hard and not dancing around looking for a spot.
In the Houston game, there were too many plays in the running game where there was poor execution. We saw Jason Witten getting beat inside and Martellus Bennett catching blocks and playing way too soft. We saw Alex Barron getting driven into the backfield and making Leonard Davis have to run the hump to get to the outside. We saw Montrae Holland not being quick enough to get outside to block on the support.
Going into the game, Texans coach Gary Kubiak spoke of his concern of the squad’s inability to get off the field on third down but also to control the Saints' running game. The Texans had given up over 200 yards rushing to the defending Super Bowl champions.
Kubiak challenged his team to watch the film and try to do something about it against the Cowboys. The Texans came out and sure enough did something about it.
The Cowboys struggled to match the intensity and the physical play and were left with 12 carries for 13 yards. Just let that sink in for a moment. I don’t care if its vanilla schemes or short sticks; it is what it is.
There comes a point and time that you come off the football, get a hat on the defender and make something happen. This was not done Saturday night, but there is still two weeks left before opening night against the Redskins. It’s two more weeks to possibly get Kyle Kosier and Marc Colombo back in the starting lineup to help the situation.
*With the cutdown to 53 right around the corner, my “bubble players” are running out of opportunities to prove to the front office and the coaches that they deserve to be on this squad. Guys like Junior Siavii, Josh Brent, Steve Octavien, Leon Williams and Chris Gronkowski are fighting for the final roster spots.
Siavii was among the players that helped himself the most in the game against the Texans. Siavii, along with Terence Newman and Jay Ratliff, played very well in a group on defense that really struggled to do much right.
Siavii has always shown strength, but he did a better job of firing his hands inside, controlling the blocker and working down the line to make the play. Siavii is something that the Cowboys really don’t have many of -- a big-bodied guy.
If the Cowboys carry five wide receivers instead of six, there is a good chance that both Siavii and Josh Brent make this football team.
*Rookie linebacker Sean Lee had a much better night in San Diego than he did against the Texans.
Lee struggled to consistently get off blocks and at times was nowhere as physical as he needed to be at the point of attack. Lee struggled as well as a blitzer.
One of the first opportunities he blitzed, he got knocked to the ground with ease. This can’t happen. He will need to study how to time his rush and also how to use his technique to disengage and attack the pocket.
If Lee is going to be used on the blitz, he needs to find a way to make sure that he is getting home on the rush.
*Alan Ball was not as good as he needed to be at free safety.
Throughout camp, Ball had shown range, ball skills and the ability to be in position to make plays. That wasn’t the case Saturday night.
As a free safety, you can’t get fooled on the route. Texans receiver Jacoby Jones was able to beat Orlando Scandrick off the line and down the field. Ball saw the route develop from Jones but bit on the head and shoulder fake to the outside which caused Ball to overcommit and allowed Jones to take his route inside on the post for a touchdown.
At free safety, you can’t make mistakes because your mistakes mean touchdowns for the opponents.