The Ravens defense had all sorts of trouble with Eagles tight end Brent Celek in Week 2, and they face a similar challenge this week in Cowboys All-Pro tight end Jason Witten.
Celek caught eight passes for 157 yards in the Eagles' 24-23 win over the Ravens, frequently finding open spots underneath as the Ravens needed to account for deep threats DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, or working himself open as Michael Vick extended a play with his scrambling.
Since the Eagles game, the Ravens have done good job neutralizing opposing tight ends. Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski had just two catches for 21 yards, and the Chiefs tight ends were held without a catch in the Ravens' 9-6 win at Kansas City last week.
But unlike the Chiefs, who struggled to get any passing game going, or even the Patriots, who don't often take shots deep downfield, the Cowboys' passing game recipe looks more like the Eagles: Stretch the field with deep threats Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and open up space underneath for the 6-foot-6, 261-pound Witten.
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said earlier this week that the task of covering Witten will fall on "all linebackers and the safeties. There are very few times you are going to have a corner really matched up on him. It’s going to be the safeties and linebackers in there. All of them are going to have to have a part in it."
"The biggest effect that we can have on them," Pees added, "is affect No. 9 [quarterbackTony Romo].”
Added linebacker Albert McClellan: ""We got to be physical right off the line of scrimmage, and pretty much just give him a handful throughout the whole game and see who lasts the longest."
"It's a task," McClellan said. "We're always up for any challenges, so it's a huge task, especially for me as an outside linebacker."
Witten got off to a slow start this season after missing most of the preseason with a lacerated spleen sustained in the preseason opener. But in the Cowboys' most recent game, against the Bears, Witten finished with 13 catches for 112 yards.
A former third-round draft pick out of Tennessee, Witten hasn't missed a start in six seasons and has had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the past five years. He ranks third in NFL history for receptions (717) and receiving yards (8,097) by a tight end ‑- just ahead of Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
At age 30 and in his 10th NFL season, Witten "is still a dominant force," Pees said. "He is still a good run blocker. He is still one of the best tight ends in the league."