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Ravens report card: Grading the defense, special teams after loss to Cowboys

Ravens report card: Grading the defense, special teams after loss to Cowboys

The Ravens' top-ranked defense faced its stiffest test of the season on Sunday at Dallas, and after controlling the game early, the Ravens were simply worn down by a deep Cowboys offense.

The Cowboys scored the final five times they had the ball, mounting three straight drives of more than 70 yards.

In short, the Ravens' top-ranked defense simply couldn't get off the field.

It's time to hand out report cards to the defense and special teams after the Ravens' 27-17 loss.

[MORE: Five things to know about the Ravens with six games left]

DEFENSIVE LINE: C+

The Ravens were impressive early, holding Ezekiel Elliott to 26 yards in the first half -- he had no official carries in the second quarter. They also got some heat on Dak Prescott early and took him out of his comfort zone.

But it didn't last.

The Ravens wore down under the Cowboys time-consuming drives in the second half.

Elliott finished with 97 rushing yards, and the Cowboys averaged 3.9 yards a carry. When the Ravens rushed only three or four, Prescott had all day to throw.

Brandon Williams, with eight tackles, and Michael Pierce, with five, matched their career highs.

LINEBACKERS: C

Zach Orr led the Ravens with 11 tackles, but after some early pressure, all semblance of a pass rush disappeared in the second half.

Tight ends Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar totaled seven catches for 58 yards and were a matchup problem all day.

Za'Darius Smith failed to set the edge on two of Elliott's longer runs.

Albert McClellan recorded the Ravens' only sack, which came on the Cowboys' first possession.

SECONDARY: D

The Ravens faced a tough task without Jimmy Smith (back), and indeed, Dez Bryant proved to be a huge matchup problem. He beat Shareece Wright for one touchdown and dragged Tavon Young into the end zone on another score. Young was also flagged for a 33-yard pass interference penalty.

Jerraud Powers had a lot of trouble in the slot with Cole Beasley (5-59), including a couple of whiffed tackles.

The safeties helped out in run support, and Lardarius Webb finished with a season-high eight tackles, but the Ravens just couldn't get off the field on third down.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

On a day when kickers around the league were shanking at a record pace, Justin Tucker remained perfect, hitting two extra-point tries and a 46-yard field goal. He has now made 30 straight field goals, the longest streak in the league after Adam Vinatieri's record run of 44 ended Sunday.

Sam Koch averaged 47.4 yards on five punts with one touchback, which came when Kamar Aiken's shoe grazed the goal line, a costly inch.

Penalties continue to be an issue; an illegal block penalty on Kamalei Correa wiped out much of a 35-yard kick return by Devin Hester, and Matt Judon was offside on a kickoff that the Cowboys returned only to the 10. The ensuing kick was a touchback, meaning the offside cost 15 yards of field position. After the game, coach John Harbaugh sounded especially irked about that penalty.

MORE: Grading the Ravens offense after loss to Cowboys

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What type of running backs are the Ravens looking for in this year's draft? GM Eric DeCosta explains

What type of running backs are the Ravens looking for in this year's draft? GM Eric DeCosta explains

The Ravens’ draft needs mostly stay within the front line on either side of the ball. 

They could use more defensive line and edge-rusher help, as well as more depth and a starter at inside linebacker. The interior offensive line could use depth, as could the tackle position. 

Aside from wide receiver, the Ravens’ needs aren’t all that flashy. 

But when the Ravens are on the clock with the 28th selection, should they stick to their best player available mantra, that could mean a running back comes off the board.

“You have to be big and strong and physical, but you also have to be durable,” general manager Eric DeCosta said. “That's a really important criteria for that position, and also be intelligent. We feel like we have a really good group of running backs on our team, and it'll just basically be who's available when we pick.” 

The Ravens set the NFL’s single-season rushing record last season due in large part to Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram, but also backup running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. 

At a position that is loaded, and also the heartbeat of the Ravens’ offense, there doesn’t appear to be any clear openings. 

“We set the record for rushing last year, so it's going to be hard for us this year,” DeCosta said. “So, we have to find as many good players as we can. I think that position is critically important to our offense.”

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That hasn’t stopped a few mock drafts from around the league projecting the Ravens might go with a running back in the early rounds. Should they do that, a few names to watch are D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers and J.K. Dobbins. All figure to be a few of the top running backs off the board. 

Even if the Ravens don’t pick a running back early in the draft, there’s still the possibility of selecting a back late with one of the Ravens’ nine draft choices. 

Should that happen, there will be a competition for the top three spots on the depth chart at running back for Baltimore.

“There are certainly running backs all throughout the draft in each round – first round all the way through the seventh round – guys that we think have the opportunity to come in and help us be the best team we can be, and we'll look at that,” DeCosta said.

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John Harbaugh concerned about potential hackers during virtual draft

John Harbaugh concerned about potential hackers during virtual draft

John Harbaugh is confident in the Ravens’ ability, as an organization, to manage the quarantine and go through as normal of an off-season as possible. 

His confidence in the off-season technology they’ll be using, however, is not as high. 

With members of the Ravens’ front office confined to their homes from now until the NFL Draft on April 23, they’ve had to adjust accordingly with virtual meetings and scouting sessions. 

Harbaugh has been assured by the IT department that they’ll be safe from any problems.

“My level of involvement has been every time I read something in The Wall Street Journal or New York Times that talks about how messed up Zoom is or some of these other deals that came out this morning, I immediately text it to our IT people,” Harbaugh said. 

The Ravens have been using the popular video conferencing site Zoom for their pre-draft meetings. 

“I’ve got some real concerns about that, and hopefully we’ll be okay,” Harbaugh said. “It’s kind of like that. We’ll see what happens. I really wouldn’t want the opposing coaches to have our playbook or our draft meetings. That would be preferable, if we can stay away from that.” 

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General manager Eric DeCosta, though, is a bit more confident than the head coach is.

“I have more confidence in Zoom than I do in Ozzie (Newsome), John, (owner Steve (Bisciotti) and team president Dick (Cass), with a copy of our draft board that they just leave in the car on their front seat or something like that,” DeCosta joked.

While the Ravens are focused on a virtual world as it relates to the NFL Draft, off-season workouts aren’t far behind. 

From there, the Ravens are waiting for word from the NFL on what their program over the summer could look like. That includes contingencies for both in-person and at-home workouts.

“I think it's up in the air just like it is with everything else with this situation,” Harbaugh said. “We've been told possibilities. We're kind of preparing for all that. The new CBA changes up some of the rules as far as what you're allowed to send them in their playbooks, some of the video teaching overlays, talk-overs and things like that.”

Harbaugh ensured they’ll be ready for any situation, but just like the rest of the NFL, and the country, the Ravens are playing a waiting game for what’s next.

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