Ravens - Cowboys: 5 keys to the game

1. Establish the running game. The Baltimore Ravens have struggled to run the football for the last few weeks during the three-game absence of All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. Upon Ogden's expected return Sunday at left tackle against the hapless Dallas Cowboys, who feature a smallish defensive front seven, expect running back Jamal Lewis' production to increase.

Lewis has averaged 2.37 and 3.68 rushing yards per attempt over the last two weeks against the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, respectively. Despite a combined total of 52 carries over that period, the All-Pro runner has only gained 152 rushing yards.

In Ogden's five starts, the Ravens have averaged 152.4 rushing yards. In the four games without him, Baltimore has averaged only 95.7 rushing yards. A 2,066-yard rusher last season en route to being named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Lewis has only rushed for more than 100 yards twice this season.

The Cowboys are susceptible to inside runs. They allow 4.7 yards per carry, rank 23rd against the run in the NFL and are surrendering 126.7 rushing yards per contest. Besides defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, none of the Cowboys generate any consistent penetration into the backfield.

2. Target cornerback Lance Frazier. The former Ravens' practice squad member is now the Cowboys' starting right cornerback. The undrafted rookie from West Virginia is only 5-foot-10, 183 pounds, and the Ravens should be able to create mismatches by lining 6-foot-6 Clarence Moore, who caught two touchdown passes in last week's overtime win over the Jets, opposite him. Plus, quarterback Kyle Boller has played much better of late. In his past three games, he has averaged 192.7 yards and is responsible for three of the last four touchdowns.

Both Moore and Travis Taylor have raised their level of production. The offense still ranks last in the NFL in passing yardage per game (130.7), but Dallas' pass defense looked pathetic in a 49-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday. The Cowboys' secondary is porous, allowing opposing quarterbacks to average 230.1 yards per game and 7.89 yards per attempt.

3. Contain Vinny Testaverde. The first quarterback in Ravens history and all-time leading Baltimore passer could be a major factor in today's game. The Ravens are expected to be without cornerback Chris McAlister and nickel back Deion Sanders because of injuries. Testaverde is an extremely streaky passer who is averaging 256 passing yards a game with 63.1 percent accuracy. He has posted three 300-yard passing games along with three three-interception games with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Testaverde is capable of following an awful half of football with a sterling one. No lead is usually safe against Testaverde, who is fond of throwing to outstanding tight end Jason Witten. Witten leads Dallas with 54 catches for 621 yards and five touchdowns. Keyshawn Johnson is a possession target (38 catches, 559 yards, four scores), and this offense sorely misses Terry Glenn.

The Ravens will likely start Corey Fuller in McAlister's place, which is an obvious downgrade from a Pro Bowler to a 33-year-old veteran at the end of his career. Dime back Chad Williams will act in Sanders' place as the nickel and linebacker Bart Scott will have to play the dime (sixth defensive back) again.

4. Demoralize Dallas early. The Cowboys have lost five of their past six games and are 1-4 on the road. Ahem, America's Team is tired and embarrassed from Monday's undressing at the hands of Terrell Owens' Eagles. The Ravens are 3-1 at M&T Bank Stadium this year.

5. Get the special teams coverage and returns on track. Last week, rookie return specialist B.J. Sams fumbled twice. The Ravens have also allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown and a 40-yard return over the last two weeks. Dallas' ReShard Lee is averaging 23.7 yards per kickoff return. This will be punter Nick Murphy's first NFL game in place of Dave Zastudil, who's out with a separated shoulder.

Aaron Wilson writes for ravensinsider.com and the Carroll County Times.


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