scouting report

the pick Dallas, 24-10

December 20, 2008|By jamison hensley

Ravens run offense vs. Cowboys run defense: Dallas has developed into one of the tougher run-stopping defenses this season. The Cowboys have not allowed more than 80 rushing yards in the past four games, and they have held teams to fewer than 100 yards in five of the past six games. The Ravens usually need their running game to win. They have gained at least 140 yards on the ground in eight of nine wins this season. Le'Ron McClain has picked up the slack for struggling Willis McGahee, averaging 80.5 rushing yards the past four games. Backup RB Ray Rice is questionable with a bruised leg. Edge: COWBOYS

Ravens pass offense vs. Cowboys pass defense: Joe Flacco has not looked sharp the past two games, failing to complete half of his passes. He has played better on the road, but he is facing the No. 8 pass defense. Dallas, which leads the NFL in sacks, recorded a season-high eight against the New York Giants on Sunday. DeMarcus Ware had three sacks and has an NFL-high 19 for the season. To protect Flacco, tight end Todd Heap will probably be more of a blocker than a receiver. Dallas CB Terence Newman made two interceptions last game, and Adam Jones (neck) is expected to return to start at the other cornerback spot. Edge: COWBOYS

Cowboys run offense vs. Ravens run defense: It's an interesting matchup of the Ravens' athleticism against Dallas' size up front. Few teams have been able to find success against the Ravens, the NFL's third-ranked run defense. Since stumbling against the Giants, the Ravens have held teams to an average of 74 rushing yards the past four games. The Ravens have given up three touchdowns on the ground, which is the fewest in the league. Tashard Choice, who led the Cowboys with 91 rushing yards Sunday, will continue to be a big part of the offense even when Marion Barber gets healthy because he has proven to be a dependable runner. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan described Choice as a mixture of Barber and Felix Jones. Edge: RAVENS

Cowboys pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: Dallas QB Tony Romo might be at less than full strength because of a sore back. But he raises his level of play at home and in clutch situations. Romo has the NFL's best passer rating in the fourth quarter (119.8) and ranks second on third downs (104.7). Fabian Washington, who has turned out to be the Ravens' top cornerback, is expected to play with a hamstring injury. But Washington and Samari Rolle (both of whom are listed as questionable) could have trouble matching up with the Cowboys' big wide receivers, Terrell Owens and Roy Williams. S Ed Reed doesn't have an interception in seven road games and hasn't broken up a pass in five straight games away from home. DE-LB Terrell Suggs has 2 1/2 sacks in his past three games. Edge: COWBOYS

Special teams: Jim Leonhard's punt-return average (11.9 yards) nearly doubles Yamon Figurs' production (6.0) for the Ravens. This is where the Ravens could capitalize against Dallas, which is 22nd in punt coverage. Jones is expected to return for the Cowboys, but he has been ineffective on punt returns (4.6). Edge: RAVENS

Intangibles: The Cowboys have the emotional edge because this marks the final game at Texas Stadium. Dallas has won five straight home games, scoring at least 30 points in three of them. The Cowboys are taking all of the drama surrounding Romo and Owens in stride. Both teams are 9-5 and are fighting for wild-card berths. Edge: Cowboys

Prediction: The Cowboys are a different team with Romo. If his back limits him, the Ravens have a chance. If it doesn't, the Ravens will be the ones hurting.

Cowboys, 24-10

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