Coming off one of their worst offensive performances in team history Monday night in Jacksonville, the Ravens look to get back on track against the Arizona Cardinals this week at M&T Bank Stadium. The debacle against the Jags most reminded me of The Worst Offense in All the Land Game from back in 2007, when Shayne Graham kicked 7 field goals as the Bengals beat the Ravens 21-7. There are some unfortunate other similarities between this team and the ’07 purple and black, most notably that they too, started 4-2 before forgetting how to score points. Sunday is a chance for this year’s squad to right the ship and hopefully avoid a fate resembling in any way that team that ended up a dismal 5-11 after a promising first six weeks of the season.
They couldn’t ask for a better opponent to “get healthy” against, as the Cardinals have been struggling mightily all year. Their only victory came in week 1, by the skin of their teeth, against Cam Newton in his first NFL start. They have since lost five straight, falling to such powerhouses as Washington (3-3), Seattle (2-4), and Minnesota (1-6). Throw in that they are a west coast team flying east for a 1 PM game against a Ravens team that is 22-5 at M&T Bank Stadium under John Harbaugh, and the deck is clearly stacked in the Ravens’ favor here.
After what we witnessed last week, though, it’s hard to imagine any sort of cakewalk for this team, even if it was the Towson Tigers lining up against them on Sunday afternoon. While all Ravens fans (and defensive players) will be clamoring for a heavy dose of Ray Rice against Arizona, the numbers suggest that attacking the Cardinals’ secondary is the best way to beat them. Joe Flacco has always played better at home through his three-plus years in Baltimore anyway, and Arizona has been torched through the air here in 2011, coming in with the 28th-ranked pass defense. Hell, they even gave up 291 yards to Rex Grossman back in week 2. They’ve intercepted only four passes and registered just 13 sacks in their six games, both near the bottom of the NFL.
They’ve been much stingier on the ground, having allowed only Adrian Peterson of the Vikings to break the 100-yard plateau this season, and coming in at #14 in rush defense. Last week, they held Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall to just 2.5 yards per carry on 13 attempts (though Isaac Redman managed 4.8 on 6 carries). While getting Rice going will (and should always) be a priority for the Ravens, this may be a situation where the passing game can open up the running game, as opposed to vice versa. If that’s the case, we have to hope we have “Good Joe” this Sunday, and not “bad Joe.” It looks like Ben Grubbs and Lee Evans will again sit out, so there are no white horses coming over the horizon to rescue this Ravens offense. It will simply be a matter of continuing to jell on that offensive line (especially Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode on the left side), and of Joe making the proper decisions and better throws than he did on Monday night.
Again, everything in his past suggests that he’ll do just that, as he usually not only plays better at home, but follows up a bad game with a good one, especially here in 2011. While that kind of inconsistency is not exactly comforting, and won’t fly long-term, it at least bodes well for a strong performance against Arizona.
Of course, the Cardinals can sling the rock in their own right. While new quarterback Kevin Kolb has not exactly lit the world on fire through six games after coming over in the offseason from the Philadelphia Eagles, he is at least a much more formidable opponent than the likes of Blaine Gabbert, who the Ravens handled easily last week. Kolb was a respectable 18/34 for 272 yards 2 TD and 1 INT against a strong Pittsburgh pass defense last week, and even though nobody is confusing him with Kurt Warner (who nearly led Arizona back from a huge deficit the last time they came to B’More), he still has Larry Fitzgerald to throw to, which would make even you or I dangerous under center.
The Ravens’ secondary is finally starting to get healthy. Jimmy Smith returned for a few snaps in Jacksonville, and both Chris Carr and Tom Zbikowski could make their returns to the lineup this week. While nobody expects Smith to step right in and lock down Fitty in what would amount to his first real coverage assignment in the NFL, it’s at least nice to have somebody who can even come close to matching Fitzgerald in physical stature (6’3″ 218 lb to Smith’s 6’2″ 211) running around with him. Ed Reed is due for a pick, having not pulled one in since week 1, and Kolb would be just the guy to get one from. Kevin knows all about #20, as he was the one that threw Ed’s 108-yard interception return touchdown back in 2008 after the Ravens knocked Donovan McNabb from the game.
Again, the Ravens couldn’t have really asked for a better situation to rebound from their embarrassing loss to the Jags. Which isn’t to suggest that the Cardinals will simply roll over and die; they’re an NFL team. As Jacksonville showed, even an inferior squad can rise up and pull off an upset if you don’t bring your “A” game. But if the Ravens are anywhere near the team they fancy themselves to be, they’ll rebound – and in a big way – this week in front of the home crowd. If they’d won on Monday Night, I’d worry about this being a bit of a trap game, with the team perhaps looking forward to Pittsburgh in week 9. They can make no such mistakes now though. Let’s hope New England, coming off their bye, can stomp the Steelers at Heinz Field, which would help put the Ravens back on top in the AFC North (assuming they take care of business against Arizona).
Time to show that last week was a fluke. The margin for error has been cut dramatically moving forward.
Ravens 27 Cardinals 13