Why We Watch: Can Ravens’ defense put an end to Dallas run?


GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK

11 Sept 2016: Ezekiel Elliott (21) of the Dallas Cowboys during their 20-19 loss to the New York Giants in the 2016 NFL week 1 regular season football game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

(Elvis Dumervil photo courtesy of Baltimore Ravens)
(Ezeiiel Elliott photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys)
BALTIMORE @ DALLAS, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line. Cowboys by 7

The weather: Sunny, high of 63  (retractable roof)

The story:  Few give the Ravens much of a chance here, and maybe they’re right. Joe Flacco is under fire, with former linebacker Ray Lewis now lobbing grenades. But c’mon, people. Cut the poor guy some slack. Flacco has no supporting cast. So the Ravens can’t find the end zone with a sherpa and are dead-flat ordinary. Except, of course … except they’re on top of their division, and there’s nothing ordinary about their defense. In fact, it ranks first in the league, and no defense anywhere is tougher vs. the run. The Ravens surrendered just four rushing touchdowns this year, allowing an astounding 24 rushing first downs. Good, huh? There’s more. They allow an average of 3.3 yards per rush and a league-low 11 rushes of 10 or more yards. Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott, meanwhile, not only leads the league in rushing but has 58 rushing first downs himself. Connect the dots. This is the Ravens defense vs. Elliott, and if Baltimore can neutralize him Baltimore could pull the upset. Of course, that’s where Dak Prescott comes in, and that’s a whole different problem for the Ravens.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Baltimore’s defense ranks first in third-down defense and in three-and-outs. The Ravens also allow opponents to hold the ball an average of 27:51 per contest, the third-lowest time in the NFL.

THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL-OF-FRAMING

An image from the Oct. 9, 2016 home game against the Houston Texans. The Vikings won 31-13.

(Sam Bradford photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)
ARIZONA @ MINNESOTA, 1 p.m. (EST)

The line: Vikings by 2

The weather: Dome

The story: Once we thought the Vikings were Super Bowl worthy. Now we don’t. Once, we thought the Cardinals were Super Bowl worthy, too. Now we don’t. So consider this the consolation bowl, with Arizona having more – maybe much more – to lose. Reason: No matter how far Minnesota falls … and it’s on a four-game bender … it will be in contention in a division no one seems to want. The Vikings have all sorts of issues on offense, starting with a leaky offensive line, but at least there was a pulse last week when Sam Bradford rallied the Vikes for what should have been a last-minute win. Unfortunately, the defense collapsed, and that’s a concern. No wonder there’s a countdown to Adrian Peterson’s return. Good news for Arizona, bad news for Sam Bradford: Cards’ safety Tyrann Mathieu is close to returning from a shoulder injury.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Bradford has not thrown an interception in four home games.

PHILADELPHIA @ SEATTLE, 4:25 p.m. (EST)

The weather: Light rain, high of 54

The line: Seahawks by 6-1/2

The story: Look at the Seattle schedule, and what do you see? Yep, this is the lone remaining opponent with a winning record, which means … uh-huh, which means you can expect to see the Seahawks go deep in the playoffs. In fact, at this juncture, there is nobody … and that includes Dallas … better in the NFC. Seattle has the defense. It has the quarterback. And it gets Thomas Rawls back to strengthen a run game that has Pete Carroll so confident he just let Christine Michael walk. So what? So Philadelphia absolutely, positively must repeat last week’s performance vs. Atlanta where it controlled the clock and the line of scrimmage — especially now that tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Jordan Matthews are questionable. If they can’t, the Eagles fall farther behind in an NFC East that looks more and more like a game of solitaire for the Cowboys.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Eagles rank second in time of possession (32:28), trailing only Dallas (33:13), and lead the league in second-half possession (17:44).

GREEN BAY @ WASHINGTON, 8:30 p.m. (EST)

The line: Redskins by 3

The weather: Partly cloudy, wind, high of 48

The story: Normally, this is game that tilts toward the Packers because, normally, this is an opponent Aaron Rodgers owns – winning his last two games vs. Washington, with 690 yards passing, a 70.5 completion percentage, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. But there is a new normal around Green Bay, and it’s called mediocrity. The Packers not only are 4-5; they lost their last three, and people are beginning to question Rodgers’ relationship with teammates, coach Mike McCarthy and his family (honest) – which, of course, happens when you don’t win.  People are also saying this is a must-win for the Packers, but not in the NFC North. Not this season. Anything goes there. But Washington? Another story. The Redskins are chasing a Dallas team that will not lose, though that hasn’t seemed to faze them. They’re 5-1-1 in their last seven starts.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Beware, Aaron Rodgers. The Redskins’ 25 sacks are the third-most since 2000 by the franchise through nine games and the most through nine starts since 2011.

MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

OAkLAND VS. HOUSTON at Mexico City, 8:30 p.m. (EST)

This is a photo of The Oakland Raiders vs Atlanta Falcons. This game was played at The Oakland Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland California on September, 18, 2016. The Falcons won 35-28.

(Derek Carr photo courtesy of Oakland Raiders)

The line: Raiders by 6

The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 67

The story: The Raiders don’t lose on the road, and, yeah, I know, this is considered a home game. But who’s kidding whom? Last time I checked they weren’t the Mexico City Raiders … not yet, anyway. But give them time. It might be an option. We know the Raiders are legit. But Houston? Not so much. So this is a bigger game for the Texans in terms of the big picture than it is Oakland, and it’s a question of whom you trust more: Derek Carr and the Oakland offense or the Houston defense? Never underestimate coach Jack Del Rio and his team when they play outside the Oakland city limits.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Texans are the least penalized team in the NFL with 57 called and 46 accepted. The Raiders are the most penalized team, with 94 accepted, including 23 – or half the Texans season total — in one game.

OUR BEST BETS

Clark Judge – Seattle (– 6-1/2). The Seahawks are hot, they’re home and they’re peaking for the playoffs.

Rick Gosselin — Pittsburgh (– 8). The Steelers lost their last four but still sit just a game out of first place in the AFC North. They need to start winning again, and this is the weekend to start. With the Browns allowing 30-plus points in six of their last eight games, they’re ripe for Pittsburgh’s talented offense.

Ron Borges — Tennessee (+3). They will beat the Colts outright, so if I can get the points and a team on the rise vs giving less than a touchdown against a team on a slide I’ll take the young bucks. Or, in this case, the Titans.

THE WATCH LIST

stevesmith

(Steve Smith photo courtesy of Baltimore Ravens)

ARIZONA RB DAVID JOHNSON. With at least 100 yards from scrimmage vs. Minnesota, he becomes just the third player since 1970 to produce at least 100 in each of his team’s first 10 games.

BALTIMORE WR STEVE SMITH. With three receptions Sunday he becomes the 14th receiver to produce 1,000 for his career.

MINNESOTA WR STEFON DIGGS. With 11 catches Sunday he becomes the first player in league history to have 37 receptions in three consecutive games. Tom Fears and Brandon Marshall hold the current record at 36.

INDIANAPOLIS RB FRANK GORE. With 108 yards rushing he passes Tony Dorsett for eighth on the career rushing list. Dorsett has 12.739 yards.

DALLAS QB DAK PRESCOTT. A defeat of Baltimore would be his ninth straight, the second longest for a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era. Ben Roethlisberger holds the record with 13.

KANSAS CITY COACH ANDY REID. He aims for his 11th straight home win.

SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMOUS

CINCINNATI QB ANDY DALTON. In his past two games vs. Buffalo he threw for six touchdowns, with one interception and 580 yards, for a rating of 111.7.

PITTSBURGH QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER. He’s 19-2 lifetime vs. Cleveland and in his last two games vs. the Browns threw for 728 yards and 6 TDs.

DETROIT QB MATT STAFFORD. He aims for his fourth straight home game with a rating of 100 or better.

INDIANAPOLIS QB ANDREW LUCK. He’s 8-0 vs. Tennessee, with 11 touchdowns and a rating of 115.4 in the last four games vs. the Titans.

N.Y. GIANTS QB ELI MANNING. He has 900 yards and 10 TDs in his last three home starts … and now he draws the Bears.

L.A. DT AARON DONALD. He has 12 sacks in his last 12 home games.

SEATTLE QB RUSSELL WILSON. He has 17 TDs and 2 interceptions in his last eight home games.

HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY

Since 1990 25 teams with losing records through nine games reached the playoffs, including three (Kansas City, Washington and Seattle) last year.

Through the first 10 weeks 110 games have been within one score in the fourth quarter – the most in league history through the first 10 weeks.

Four of the NFL’s top 10 attendances figures come from games in Mexico.

Philadelphia scored 20 or more points in 11 straight games.

Baltimore has never lost to Dallas. The Ravens are 4-0 against them.

Since the beginning of 2003, the Patriots are 41-6 in regular-season games immediately following a loss. As a starter, Tom Brady is 41-10 in games following a defeat.

Under coach Chuck Pagano, the Colts are a league-best 30-11 in games decided by one score (eight or fewer points).

The Baltimore-Dallas game features the two most accurate kickers in NFL history, the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey (hes made 90.4 percent of his field goals) and the Ravens’ Justin Tucker (89.4).

Dating back to last season, Tucker has made his last 29 field-goal attempts.

Under coach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals are 6-0 vs. the NFC North.

Arizona is 11-2 in November under Arians.

New England’s LeGarrette  Blount is on schedule to finish with 21 rushing touchdowns. The franchise record is 14, set twice by Curtis Martin.

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