Takeaways From Ravens' Win Over Cardinals
The 61 pundits who unanimously picked the Ravens to beat the Cardinals were all on the same page for a reason, but the matchup was closer than most anticipated.
The Ravens grinded out a 23-17 win in front of the home crowd to improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2017. Two weeks into the regular season, Baltimore sits alone atop of the AFC North and could have a two-game lead by the end of tonight.
"It wasn't pretty, but the Ravens aren't looking for style points," Russell Street Report's Todd Karpovich wrote. "Good teams find a way to win."
Here are some takeaways from Sunday's win:
Another Record-Setting Lamar Jackson Performance; One Stat Points to a Super Bowl Run
It wasn't five touchdowns and a perfect quarterback rating, but Lamar Jackson still found his way into the record books on Sunday. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 250 yards and rush for at least 120 yards in a game.
Jackson was elusive on the ground but made big throws in crucial situations, including the game-sealing 41-yard completion to Marquise "Hollywood" Brown.
As The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec pointed out, Jackson has more touchdown passes (seven) in two games this season than he did in seven starts as a rookie, and he currently holds the longest regular-season streak without throwing an interception.
"There are only two quarterbacks in the NFL who are currently better than Jackson. It's Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. That's it. That's all." Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote. "And it could be argued that with the numbers Jackson is putting up in his first full season as the Ravens' starting quarterback, it's not even them. It could be argued that no player is better."
Jackson put in extensive work entering his second season, and he's quickly turning his skeptics into believers.
"All of you running with that garbage that the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback would be better off as a receiver, [you] better own that," CBS Sports' Jim Rome said. "No, I do not care who he did it against … Jackson is now running on some serious fuel and if you're still looking to make him beat you with his arm, he will, and he's going to make you look really bad in the process."
While it may be too soon to look ahead, NBC Sports' Ryan Wormeli offered one stat that could point to a potential Super Bowl run.
The Ravens have gained the third-most yards on offense (1,083) through the first two games of the regular season. Only two teams have gained more yards (1991 Bills and 2011 Patriots), and they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy the same season.
"Of course, this doesn't guarantee anything for Baltimore," Wormeli wrote. "The Dolphins … may end up as one of the worst teams … while the Cardinals are coming off a season in which they fielded one of the worst defenses in the league."
Defense Bends, But Doesn't Break
The Ravens knew they were in for a challenge against the Cardinals. Arizona's multiple wide receiver sets and quick tempo kept the game close, but the defense clamped down when it mattered most.
"Facing some adversity, the defense pulled two three-and-outs at the end of the game and the offense took nearly seven minutes off the clock in their final two drives, hitting on some plays to stay ahead at the final whistle," Stevens wrote.
Wink Martindale's unit held the Cardinals to three field goals inside the 5-yard line, and the defensive scheme countered Kliff Kingsbury's offense.
"Kingsbury's offense, with Kyler Murray at the helm, proved to be a much more formidable challenge than what the Ravens' faced in Miami last week," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote. "However, Baltimore's defense stepped up the plate late, thwarting multiple opportunities for the Cardinals to score a go-ahead touchdown. It was far from a flawless showing but the end result is what matters, and the defense deserves credit for performing in crunch time."
Stevens attributed a significant part of the defensive success to the pass rush. The Ravens sacked Murray three times and totaled nine quarterback hits, keeping the dual-threat quarterback relatively stagnant in the pocket.
"Credit Martindale for being able to mix up coverages and looks throughout the game to not only send blitzes from different positions but to thoroughly confuse Murray and the Cardinals' offensive line," Stevens wrote. "Much like last year, Baltimore seems to be able to generate pressure through scheme, even if individual players don't stand out."
One pass rusher who did stand out was Matthew Judon, and in Terrell Suggs' return, The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker believes Judon played like a worthy successor to the Future Hall of Famer.
"Though no one can replace Suggs, one of the signature talents and personalities in Ravens history, Judon has done his former teammate proud," Walker wrote.
Secondary Suffers 'Noticeable' Lapses
While the defense held the Cardinals to just 17 points, the secondary struggled to contain Murray through the air and suffered "noticeable" lapses in coverage.
"The Ravens have typically flustered and battered rookie QBs, but Murray enjoyed periods of success, sometimes by finding uncovered receivers," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote.
"The secondary needs to tighten up and not give up large chunks of yards so easily," Ravens Wire's Chuck Mills wrote. "That's especially the case with a matchup against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on the horizon."
Kasinitz tabbed the Cardinals' offensive scheme and tempo as the biggest challenges to Martindale's unit.
Safety Earl Thomas said the defense was slow to react Arizona's quick substitutions and Tony Jefferson said the home crowd "was so loud before certain snaps that it made it difficult for defensive players to bark out adjustment and play calls meant to combat the Air Raid offense."
"[Larry] Fitzgerald (104 receiving yards) found himself running free several times, hauling in a handful of deep passes from Murray," Kasinitz wrote. "Wide receivers Christian Kirk (114) and Damiere Byrd (45) sprung free on other plays, allowing Murray to pile up 349 passing yards on the game against what many consider a formidable Baltimore defensive backfield."
However, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec downplayed any major defensive concerns given how new the Cardinals' offense still is.
"The NFL is a week-to-week league, and the Cardinals are a difficult opponent to match up with because what they do is unique and there's still not a lot of tape out there of Murray running a Kingsbury offense," Zrebiec wrote. "In other words, it would probably be a bit unfair to conclude, after their multiple breakdowns Sunday, that the Ravens defense is in big trouble."
Jackson vs. Mahomes Rematch Already Garnering Hype
The Ravens face one of their biggest challenges of the season next week when they travel on the road to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. Baltimore's 27-24 overtime loss last season was an instant classic, and you can bet the Jackson-Mahomes rematch is already garnering hype.
"It was a solid day against a legitimate NFL defense to push the Ravens to 2-0," Sports Illustrated's Gary Gramling wrote. "More fun next week when the Ravens travel to Kansas City, but the arrow is pointing so very up on Jackson."
Could the Ravens Target Minkah Fitzpatrick?
If the Ravens are interested in adding another piece to the secondary with Jimmy Smith sidelined, they could look no further than their Week 1 opponent.
Reports surfaced Friday that Dolphins defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick has been granted permission to seek a trade, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
NBC Sports' Andrew Gillis believes the Ravens should inquire about the second-year defensive back "if the compensation is right."
"At a position already thinned by injury, Young out for the season and Smith out for an unknown amount of time with an MCL sprain, the move for the Ravens makes sense from an on-field perspective," Gillis wrote. "Fitzpatrick could come in right away and be carried by an already stellar unit until he finds his footing."
Fitzpatrick is only in the second year of his four-year rookie deal, and Gillis noted that the Ravens could acquire him in his prime. Fitzpatrick totaled 80 tackles, two interceptions, and nine passes defensed as a rookie last season, but the asking price reportedly includes a first-round pick.
Still, Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw is fully on board.
"The talent boost that Fitzpatrick would give to the defense would be absolutely insane," Bradshaw wrote. "The Ravens could flex him all over the field and he could do anything they ask of him. He's so talented that his addition could make him the best player on this defense!"
- FanSided's Randy Gurzi already has the Ravens No. 3 in his Week 3 power rankings. "Next week will be a huge test for them as they take on Mahomes and the Chiefs ... Should they continue to perform this well against the Chiefs, it should silence any remaining doubters."