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The Vent: Even with not much left to lose, Cowboys fall apart in Baltimore

The Dallas Cowboys still have never won in Baltimore against the Ravens after falling 34-17 in the first game on a Tuesday in franchise history.
Credit: AP
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown (15) catches second half touchdown against during an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

The Dallas Cowboys lost their ninth game of 2020 as they cemented a losing record for the season with a 34-17 loss to Baltimore in Week 13. A loss to the Ravens on the road is no real shame – Baltimore was a trendy Super Bowl pick before the season – but losing the way Dallas did felt like a microcosm for how things have gone wrong for the Cowboys this year.

Dallas, at the very least, didn’t have the turnovers or dumb penalties problem that has plagued the team throughout the season, but the defense was nearly non-existent with a bevy of blown assignments that led to explosive plays for the Ravens. 

Meanwhile, the Andy Dalton-era offense continued to fail to cash in despite moving the ball at a decent rate.

No reasonable Cowboys fan can watch this defense and believe the unit is any good and every week there’s a catastrophic error that hands their opponent points. Against the Ravens, and defending league MVP Lamar Jackson, it took just two possessions to botch an assignment that paid off for Baltimore. 

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone as bamboozled on a football field as linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was on a fake handoff on the 4th-and-2 play that turned into a 37-yard Jackson walk-in touchdown on Baltimore’s last play of the first quarter.

Vander Esch was not the only victim of a poor unit against the run for the Cowboys as they allowed 294 rushing yards, a season high for the Ravens, with two of Baltimore’s four touchdowns coming on the ground.

RELATED: Game recap: Baltimore Ravens beat Dallas Cowboys 34-17

The Ravens’ rushing attack presented a difficult challenge for this defense from the start, but nearly 300 yards is an egregious number to give up on the ground, especially when Jackson didn’t demonstrate that he could throw the ball with any efficiency on the night with just 107 yards through the air.

One of the passes Jackson did manage to complete was a 38-yard touchdown to wideout Miles Boykin who ran free through the middle of the field on the first and only play of a second-quarter scoring drive following a Dalton interception. 

Mark that down as a second blown assignment and another free score for the Ravens. It would have been nice to have a Cowboys defender in the same zip code on the first two Baltimore touchdowns, but when Dallas messes up on defense, they make sure to let everyone know about it.

The Cowboys also missed on too many opportunities to score themselves. The offense had their chances, but couldn’t punch it in. After a brutal missed pass interference call near the end of the first half, CeeDee Lamb dropped a perfect hail mary pass from Dalton in the endzone. 

The degree of difficulty was high, but the ball went right off the rookie receivers’ hands and prevented Dallas from tying the game at halftime.

These are the types of plays that have eluded the Cowboys all season long, the near misses continue to cost the team the ability to win games. A few weeks ago, Lamb made a tougher catch and the Cowboys beat the Vikings. This week, Lamb couldn’t bring it in and the team couldn’t make up for the drop.

You’re also not going to win many games when the kicker misses three field goals as Greg Zuerlein did in this contest. With drives stalling out, the Cowboys needed a reliable kicker to get the available points on the board to stay in the game and Zuerlein failed.

That’s how the season has gone for Jerry Jones’ team. With opportunities in front of them, rarely have things gone their way. With that said, Dallas also isn’t making enough plays to create their own luck which makes missing on the plays that could favorably impact games all the more maddening. 

Put it all together and that’s how you end up sitting at 3-9 in a season that was, at worst, supposed to end the streak of failing to make the NFC Championship Game.

Allowing almost 300 yards on the ground is a recipe for disaster. 

Giving up big plays while not capitalizing on your own chances is how you stare down a top five draft pick.

Missing three field goals is a losing formula.

RELATED: Former Cowboy Dez Bryant scratched at last minute due to positive COVID-19 test

In fact, to that last point, electing to kick long field goals when down on the scoreboard and the defense can’t seem to get out of its own way is playing to lose. Didn’t Mike McCarthy say that he had embraced analytics and was going to be aggressive when he took over as head coach? 

Those words now ring hollow after the coaching staff decided against pressing the issue in some situations where the Cowboys were in plus territory and needed touchdowns and not field goals. It was obvious that his kicker was struggling, yet McCarthy kept trotting Zuerlein out for long, fruitless attempts.

At 3-9, the Cowboys’ season is on life support and the playoffs are a pipe dream. The defense got pushed around once again and the offense couldn’t make enough plays to stay in the game. 

It was evident in the loss to the Ravens that Dallas just doesn’t have the ability to play quality football. In a game of inches where a few plays can win or lose the game, the Cowboys haven’t been able to make the winning plays all season and that trend continued against Baltimore.

Do you think the performance in Baltimore is an indication that the Cowboys should be more concerned with draft positioning rather than a longshot bid at winning the NFC East? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.