The Dallas Cowboy's backs are to the wall after this past Sunday. It's bad enough that they've lost five of their last six games, but also, the New York Giants and Washington Football Team picked up huge road victories against the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers to improve their records to 5-7. At 3-8, the Cowboys need a win to keep pace in the NFC East.
The Baltimore Ravens are next up on the Cowboys schedule. After a 5-1 start, the Ravens have lost three straight games and four of their last five. This sets up a matchup of two teams whose playoff hopes are hanging on by a thread. Here are three key players to watch for the Cowboys on Tuesday.
One of the few bright spots this season for the Cowboys has been getting Randy Gregory back on the field. After missing the first six games due to conditions of his reinstatement, Gregory has been lights out. In five games, he's accumulated 14 pressures, seven hurries, five quarterback hits, and two sacks (both on Thanksgiving vs Washington).
The Ravens have the second-best rushing attack in the NFL at 157.6 yards per game. Also, their franchise quarterback and leading rusher, Lamar Jackson, has been activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list and will start. It'll be important for Gregory to set the edge and be disruptive against the run and also apply pressure to Jackson when he puts the ball in the air.
Leighton Vander Esch
Leighton Vander Esch's season got off to a rocky start when he broke his collarbone in the season opener against the Los Angeles Rams. After missing four games, Vander is starting to show the flashes of the “Wolf Hunter” we've all become accustomed to. He recorded 12 tackles in Week 7 against Washington and duplicated that production in Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings (has 19 tackles in the last two games).
With Jackson back in the lineup, it makes the Ravens elite rushing attack even more lethal. Vander Esch will be key in keeping Jackson from getting past the second level of the defense which is where he is the most dangerous. If the Ravens can continuously move the chains it'll be a long day for Vander Esch and the Cowboys defense.
The Cowboys hit a home run when they selected CeeDee Lamb 17th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Coming into Week 13, he ranked third in receiving yards (650) and fourth in touchdowns (4) for all rookies, ranking second and first in those categories for the Cowboys this season. His 53 receptions have already broken the franchise rookie record set by Bob Hayes in 1965 and he also became the first player in NFL history with at least five receptions in his first six games.
Even though Lamb has scored two touchdowns in the last three games he's also had under 35 yards in three of his last four. If he's going to be effective on Tuesday night it won't be easy going against the Raven's tenth best pass defense in terms of yards per game. However, if he can make some plays and keep the chains moving it will open up Ezekiel Elliott and the running game and allow the Cowboys to control the pace.
Even if all three of these players have big games will it be enough for the Cowboys to win on the road? Only time will tell.