Five thoughts on the Ravens’ 23-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
From the moment the schedule came out in April, one thing was clear: However they did it, the Ravens needed to start 2-0. No game is easy, but a schedule doesn’t get much friendlier than a road opener against a rebuilding team (Miami) and a home opener against a team starting a rookie quarterback (Arizona), no matter how talented. It offered the potential for a fast, confidence-building start, and the Ravens have taken full advantage, following up their blowout win in Miami with another win on Sunday that didn’t astonish in the same way but certainly got the job done. They had issues with penalties and pass coverages, and their offense and defense both had uneven stretches, but let’s be clear: Both units won the day in the end, the defense with red-zone stops, the offense with Lamar Jackson’s running and passing, which is looking close to unstoppable so far in 2019. There’s plenty to work on, but more to be happy about, starting with the fact that the Ravens are 2-0 and still the only AFC North team with a victory.
After what Jackson did to Miami with his arm in Week 1, I figured opposing defenses would start playing the Ravens’ offense more straight up, rather than continuing to pack the box to stop the run. But the Cardinals were determined to stop the run and make Jackson beat them, almost as if that blowout in Miami had never happened. Their gambit kind of worked in that they kept the score close and kept the home crowd nervous until the final seconds. But they did lose, and the difference was their inability to stop Jackson as either a passer or runner. The Ravens’ running backs were mostly quiet, but Jackson had another big passing day (24 of 37, 272 yards, two touchdowns) and his playmaking with his legs was, quite simply, the difference in the game. Most of his runs were improvised scrambles that extended drives, and he’s so fast that he seemed to do it almost effortlessly. “Just taking what the defense gives me,” he shrugged.
It might be time to mothball that adage about rookie starting quarterbacks being scared neophytes you can take advantage of. Making his first-ever road start in the NFL, the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray didn’t look scared or overmatched. Operating an offense as pass-first as any in the NFL, he made a bunch of on-target throws, rolled up big stats, never turned the ball over and had the home crowd fretting over what might happen late. And he did it despite being hounded by an active Ravens pass rush that produced three sacks and nine quarterback hits. But the back end of the Baltimore defense had zone-coverage and communication issues that resulted in receivers being open, and Murray found them. The defense did make Murray look like a rookie when he reached the red zone (forcing him to settle for three field goals) and on third downs (Arizona converted just two of 11 into firsts). The defense also rose to the occasion late. After the Cardinals closed to within three points early in the fourth quarter, they did little else with the ball.
On the game’s decisive play, the Ravens’ offense faced third-and-11 at the Baltimore 44 with 3:05 to play. Instead of milking the clock with a run, punting and asking their defense to save the day, the Ravens went bold, lined up with an empty backfield and threw deep. Jackson’s 41-yard completion to Marquise Brown locked up the game. It was the last and most important example of the aggressive approach the Ravens are displaying in 2019. Other examples Sunday included the steady diet of blitzes that Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale dialed up, especially late, when the game was in the balance; and Head Coach John Harbaugh going for it on fourth-and-3 at the Arizona 43 in the first quarter. But the pass to Brown was the biggest of them all, and the lesson in that call and execution is clear: It’s a lot easier to be aggressive when you have big-time playmakers on the field.
Short takes: The Ravens didn’t let Terrell Suggs have his on-field moment in his much-discussed homecoming. He had one solo tackle, three overall, and no sacks. Ravens tackle Orlando Brown Jr. had a solid outing against him … Even though Baltimore’s running backs combined for just 17 carries, the Ravens still totally dominated possession, holding the ball for 37:38 of the game’s 60 minutes thanks to Jackson’s running and timely passing … The Ravens had 10 penalties and they “killed us,” Jackson said … Brown and tight end Mark Andrews caught two-thirds of Jackson’s completions (16 of 24) and were targeted on 22 of his 35 targeted throws … Jackson is now 8-1 as a starter in the regular season, with his only loss in overtime to the Chiefs in Kansas City last season. The teams meet again on the same field next Sunday.