Flying with the Flock: Ravens vs. Cardinals Preview
FLYING WITH THE FLOCK: RAVENS VS. CARDINALS PREVIEW — Do not overlook this game. As much as the Arizona Cardinals have struggled, this is exactly the type of matchup that’s given Baltimore trouble this season.
Trap games have prevented this team from holding the top spot in the AFC, and they must avoid a letdown coming off a huge win over Detroit.
Birds of a Feather
Most experts pegged Arizona as the worst team in the league entering the season. And although the Cardinals’ 1-6 record hasn’t exactly made pundits eat it, they’ve been a tough out. They rank ninth in the NFL in first-half points and dead last in the second half. Based on the few social interactions I’ve seen from their coach, Jonathan Gannon, his halftime speeches might be to blame.
Ravens’ Offense Is Rolling
Last week, the Ravens exploited Detroit’s soft zone coverage in their best offensive performance of the year. This week could be more of the same, as the Cardinals run zone at the fifth highest rate in the league, 4.3 percent higher than the Lions. Arizona’s pass defense is among the worst in the NFL, ranking 30th in yards per play allowed.
Related: NFL Week 8 Predictions
If Baltimore’s offensive line can put forth another strong performance this week, Lamar Jackson should excel once again. Baltimore’s pass catchers also deserve some credit for bouncing back after their disastrous outing in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Mark Andrews had been quiet by his standards heading into last week, but his two scores against the Lions felt like a return to normalcy.
Beating the Dobbs
Arizona’s offense has been surprising at times this year. Shockingly, the Cardinals rank second in the NFL in yards per rush and sixth in rushing yards per game. With Kyler Murray still inactive, the Ravens will face Josh Dobbs. Dobbs deserves credit for how he’s played, given the fact he was acquired two weeks before the start of the season. He’s been a surprisingly effective runner, and the Cardinals like to mix in read options to keep defenses honest.
His skill position talent isn’t totally deficient either. Ravens fans are, of course, familiar with Hollywood Brown, whom the team traded to Arizona in 2022. Hollywood has been okay, on pace for 930 yards this year, but he hasn’t been worth the first-round pick the Cardinals gave up to get him. (The Ravens traded that pick to Buffalo and ended up with center Tyler Linderbaum and punter Jordan Stout from the deal when all was said and done.)
Opposite Hollywood, Rondale Moore isn’t a traditional receiver, but they deploy him all over the field and he’s elusive with the ball in space. Effectively running the ball to force the Ravens out of their two-high shells and open up the field for the speedsters is Arizona’s path to victory.
The reality won’t be purely binary, but the Ravens defense has its work cut out for it. That said, Mike MacDonald has proved he can be trusted to deliver an effective game plan, and Roquan Smith and the rest of the defense will execute at a high level.
Getting Odell Involved
When is the meltdown coming from Odell Beckham Jr.? The superstar receiver has never been much of a sideline stoic, and 162 yards in five games isn’t what he hoped for. Up 29 points against the Lions, it was clear that Odell wasn’t happy with his workload. Odell’s antics have led people to label him “selfish” and a “diva.” I’ve always believed that he simply takes immense pride in his performance.
There’s no shame in that, but if he doesn’t get involved soon, it may become a distraction. I don’t know how much the politics of the receiver room are taken into account by Todd Monken, but if this game goes the way it should, getting Beckham Jr. a garbage-time touchdown might save a future headache.
Bye Bye Birdie
The Ravens don’t have their bye for another five weeks. Staying healthy and focused during these first thirteen must be difficult. As the national media hops on the Ravens bandwagon, Harbaugh has his work cut out for him keeping the team down to earth.
Related: Fantasy Football Week 8 Sleepers
Arizona might not be talented, but it has played with pride and has nothing to lose. It’d take a lot for the Cardinals to fire Jonathan Gannon after one year, but it can’t be dismissed. He must realize that upsetting one of the best teams in the league would go a long way toward securing another year as coach.
As the AFC cannibalizes itself, it feels as though the Ravens have a true shot at the number one seed. It’s possible we look back on the Lions victory as the season’s turning point.
The Ravens sit firmly in the top five of every power ranking. Lamar Jackson is shooting up the list of MVP favorites and the team is finally healthy. But with expectations comes pressure, and Baltimore’s ability to handle it will define the rest of its season.
Prediction: Ravens 33, Cardinals 16