Five thoughts on the Ravens' 26-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium:
Cardinals Loss A Microcosm Of Season
If any fans around the country were wondering what in the world is going on with the Ravens in 2015, they probably have a better understanding after watching this. The Ravens fell behind but fought hard as significant underdogs, and in what seems like a weekly occurrence, took the game down to the final seconds with a chance to change the outcome. But they didn't make a play, and in any case, "we probably didn't play well enough to win," quarterback Joe Flacco said. Indeed, they reprised most of the issues that have brought their season down. They committed too many penalties, lost a key turnover, muddled around on offense, missed key tackles, didn't force any turnovers themselves and lacked offensive playmaking. Their struggling defense actually held on for dear life against a tough opponent, and a late blocked punt kept the Ravens in the game until the end. But in the final reckoning, they just fell too far behind, beating themselves along the way. It has happened a lot this year.
Offense Just Not Good Enough
It wasn't much of a night for the Ravens offense. The running game never got going. Flacco's protection was shaky. He missed an open touchdown pass in the first half. Other than Steve Smith Sr., no one made a downfield play. And with a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, the offense "got hectic" in the red zone due to the headsets going out, Flacco said, and drew a penalty before Flacco tossed a game-ending interception that wasn't really his fault. It was especially frustrating because plays were there all night. Early on, two promising drives were cut short by penalties. Receiver Chris Givens was two steps behind a defender on a deep crossing route, but Flacco underthrew him. Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman tried to shake things up with trick plays, but a flag nullified a completion to guard John Urschel (who had correctly reported as eligible, by the way), and Givens was thrown for a loss on a reverse. The unit's lone touchdown drive, in the second quarter, looked good, but things tailed off badly from there. The Ravens' first three possessions of the second half ended with Sam Koch punting and the game getting out of hand. Just not good enough from the offense.
Check out the best photos from Arizona as the Ravens battle the Cardinals on Monday Night Football!
Ills Of 2015 Continue To Plague Ravens
The game changed dramatically just before halftime. The Ravens had taken a three-point lead and forced a punt, seemingly starting to take control. The crowd had grown quiet, sensing a tougher night than expected. But a flurry of mistakes, symbolizing their ills of 2015, crushed the Ravens' momentum. Givens fumbled the punt, giving Arizona the ball on the Baltimore 25. A personal foul on the Ravens' Asa Jackson moved the ball closer to the end zone. A pair of pass interference penalties, on Lardarius Webb and Brynden Trawick, moved the ball to the 1. After being gifted with a turnover and three penalties, the Cardinals moved the ball exactly 1 yard to score six points, and never trailed again. For the season, the Ravens have forced four turnovers and lost 10, a devastating ratio.
Lack Of Explosion Translates To Pressure
The Cardinals entered the game with just nine sacks for the season, half as many as the Ravens. The storyline in Arizona all week was whether their defense could start ginning up pressure. The Ravens' offense gave them what they wanted. The Cardinals knew their defensive backs could handle the Ravens' wide receivers in single coverage, so the rest of the defense was able to blitz. Flacco was sacked three times and often under pressure. It's Exhibit A of what a team faces when its receivers don't scare the opposition. As Flacco explained after the game, "we just don't have the explosiveness to get big chunks (of yards) consistently." Monday night, that lack of explosiveness translated into a heavy pass rush.
Asa Jackson's late-game blocked punt, a superb special teams play, was his first since his Pop Warner days, he said … We have a winner in the strangest/worst call of the year contest. The Ravens' Brandon Williams brought Arizona back Chris Johnson down on a run, but Johnson rolled off and kept going for 62 yards. The officials never blew a whistle, strangely ruling that Johnson's forward progress wasn't stopped even though he had been tackled. I'll be interested to hear the league's explanation, and whatever technicality gets cited, it's not a good one … When Terrell Suggs was lost for the season, the Ravens scoured the open market for pass-rushing help, checking out two 35-year-olds, Dwight Freeney and Jason Babin, among others. They signed Babin. The Cardinals, also needing pass-rushing help, signed Freeney. The Ravens have since cut Babin, but Freeney was a difference-maker Monday night, registering a sack and another quarterback hit … The eight-point margin represented the Ravens' biggest defeat of the season, yes, in a game decided in the final seconds. Of course, it came down to the final seconds only because Arizona missed an extra point in the fourth quarter, keeping the Ravens within 16 points, or two scores.