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Ravens Eye View: How the Ravens Shifted Gears in Arizona

RB Gus Edwards
RB Gus Edwards

Coming off a blowout win against the Lions, the Ravens were in a tighter-than-many-expected game in Arizona in Week 8.

Late in the second quarter, the teams were locked in a 7-7 tie before an interception set up a Ravens score just before halftime. As they came out for the second half, Head Coach John Harbaugh's charge was clear: run the ball and stop the run.

The Ravens shifted gears to pull away for a 31-24 win in Arizona. Here's how they did it:

The Cardinals entered the game with the No. 28-ranked defense in the league. That surely didn't sit well with first-year Head Coach Jonathan Gannon, who was the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive coordinator in last year's Super Bowl.

While the Cardinals don't have many big-name defensive players outside of safety Budda Baker, who had a strong showing in his second game back from injury, they played one of their best games of the season against the Ravens.

The Cardinals dropped a lot of defenders into coverage and did a good job of masking their intentions pre-snap. Arizona played Cover 4 on 37.5% of Lamar Jackson's dropbacks and Cover 1 28.1% of the time, per Next Gen Stats.

The Cardinals had less than four rushers on six plays, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it was nearly 20% of the Ravens' dropbacks. Conversely, the Ravens never sent fewer than four pass rushers on any of the Cardinals' 39 dropbacks.

This clouded the picture for Jackson and made for tighter throwing windows, which led him to hold the ball longer at times and more incompletions. Jackson was sacked four times.

Jackson made up for the offense's unsteady start with some spectacular plays that only he can seemingly make. He flipped the ball on the move to Gus Edwards for a key pick-up, completed a pass to Rashod Bateman despite being knocked into by his own blocker, and threw a touchdown to Mark Andrews on one leg.

Baltimore had a 70% pass rate in the first half of Sunday's game. In the second half, the Ravens started running more against those light Cardinals' boxes.

Much of their success came up the middle behind center Tyler Linderbaum, left guard John Simpson, and right guard Kevin Zeitler. Linderbaum and Zeitler had their highest-graded games from Pro Football Focus of the season.

"They're playing really well, and I think we're getting better and better," Harbaugh said Monday. "You saw the inside, interior run game really come alive in the second half. That was something we've been working really hard on."

Running back Gus Edwards also showed good patience in his three-touchdown, 80-yard performance. Per Next Gen Stats, Edwards got more yards than expected on a season-high 58% of his runs.

In other offensive notes, wide receiver Rashod Bateman made big plays for a second straight week, building momentum toward what Harbaugh predicted will be a "very successful" second half of the season.

On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals were having considerable rushing success despite top running back James Connor being on injured reserve. Arizona was committed to the run game early on, broke tendencies, and did well getting extra blockers at the point of attack. That led to too many free runners going through the defensive line in the first half.

Still, Michael Pierce made a couple fourth-down stops in the first half as Baltimore's defense came up with critical plays. It was Pierce's best game since 2017, per PFF, and Harbaugh accurately stated that Pierce "took over the game inside."

Pierce wasn't the only Ravens defensive lineman to make splash plays. He got help from Justin Madubuike, who generated six pressures and a sack on just 23 pass rushes. He would have had a second sack had it not been wiped off the board by a questionable illegal contact penalty.

Defensive tackle Travis Jones also played one of his best games of the year, as the Ravens did a better job against the Cardinals' rushing attack in the second half.

Baltimore's two interceptions were game-changing plays, as the Ravens scored touchdowns off both.

Cornerback Brandon Stephens got an assist from linebacker Patrick Queen on the first but had the second one basically stolen out of his hands by safety Geno Stone, who now leads the league with five interceptions. It's tough to fault Stone too much, however, because he made an excellent play to get the pick.

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