BALTIMORE -- The Cowboys return to work and begin a brutal five-game stretch where they play four on the road. First up are the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon.
The series: The Ravens have never lost to the Cowboys, compiling a 3-0 mark. In two losses in Baltimore the Cowboys were outscored 57-10. The Ravens are one of just six NFL teams that hold a series edge over the Cowboys.
Home-field advantage: Winning at M&T Bank Stadium has been a difficult task for road teams. Since John Harbaugh became coach in 2008, the Ravens have won 13 consecutive games here (longest active home winning streak in the NFL) and 21 of the last 22 overall. Harbaugh’s team is 8-0 against the NFC at home since 2008.
Will Anthony Spencer play?: The Cowboys outside linebacker has a strained pectoral muscle injury and missed the Week 4 game against Chicago. He was limited in practices last week and is listed as questionable on the injury report. Spencer was replaced in the Chicago game by Victor Butler, who picked up just one tackle. Butler most likely will get the start again, but expect linebacker Alex Albright to also get some playing time. Albright, who has recovered from a stinger, can play inside and outside linebacker. (UPDATE: Spencer is inactive.)
Who’s the punter?: At one point during practices at Valley Ranch both Chris Jones and Brian Moorman were nursing injuries. The Cowboys worked out three punters Friday but won’t sign one. Jones (sprained knee) will play against the Ravens. Moorman is out with a strained groin. With Jones returning, who holds for kicker Dan Bailey is an issue. Jones is the regular holder, but if he can’t do it, quarterbacks Tony Romo and Kyle Orton could do it.
Ratliff returns: Nose tackle Jay Ratliff makes his season debut after missing the first four games of the season with a high ankle sprain. The Cowboys miss his power and ability to take on double-teams, which he’ll face on a regular basis from the Ravens interior. Kenyon Coleman should also return after missing the previous two games with a hyperextended knee. Sean Lissemore might start for the Cowboys in place of Coleman, but coach Jason Garrett has downplayed the significance of this because the defensive line has a rotation.
Phil Costa is back: Everybody’s favorite center, Phil Costa, returns to the starting lineup after missing the last three games with a back injury. Costa lasted just three snaps before coming out of the Week 1 game against the New York Giants. Ryan Cook (hamstring) had started in Costa's place.
Something to watch: The Cowboys gave some first-team snaps at right guard to Derrick Dockery. Mackenzy Bernadeau remains the starter, but the free agent pickup has struggled this season. Dockery said he’ll do what’s necessary to help the team. Bernadeau said his play is unacceptable and that it needs to improve. The media has questioned the play of Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis, a sure Hall of Famer. Lewis laughed off the talk and told Dallas area reporters during a conference call to "keep watching."
Cowboys after a bye: The Cowboys are 16-7 after bye weeks, the second-most wins in the NFL behind only Denver’s 17. And while playing here is going to be difficult for the Cowboys, Dallas is 9-5 on the road following bye weeks. The Cowboys have won four of their last five road games coming off the bye week. It lost last season’s contest at New England.
Who needs to play well: Romo threw five interceptions in the loss to the Bears and that can’t happen again if the Cowboys expect to compete in this game. The run game has struggled badly and DeMarco Murray needs some running lanes to improve it. Cornerback Morris Claiborne allowed the first touchdown of his career -- Devin Hester beat him on a stop and go -- but the rookie appears to have the mental makeup to do well against Baltimore.