Week 3 Preview – Cards @ Ravens


This week the Arizona Cardinals take on the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Stadium in Baltimore, MD where the Ravens have won 12 of their last 13 and have allowed only 11.7 points per game in those 12 victories. Due to having one of the most suffocating defensive teams in the league consistently over the past few seasons, they posted a 13-3 regular season record last year (2nd best in the NFL) and are 11-5 against NFC opponents since 2003. So what does all of this mean for the Cards this Sunday?

Nothing………because this Ravens team is overhyped and ripe for a fall.

During their first two games this season, for all of their defensive pressure and talk, the Ravens looked very susceptible to the passing attack. Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer methodically picked the secondary apart in Baltimore’s opening week loss on Monday night, and NY Jets backup Kellen Clemens very nearly tied up the game in the fourth quarter during their week 2 contest if not for three dropped or bobbled passes by his receivers, ultimately leading to a Ravens interception in the endzone. They have been great against the run in those two games, but Cincinnati has a lot of inconsistency on their O-Line due to injuries and they struggled to open holes for RB Rudi Johnson. And NY? Well let’s just say that they fell behind so quickly in their first two games that they essentially had to abandon the running game all together to even have a chance. Based on all of that and on how well the Cards O-Line has been playing, I think there is an advantage for us here that we may be able to exploit.

All of that said, here are what I see as the keys to a Cards victory this Sunday:

1. The Defense needs to continue to dictate the pace of the game and control the line of scrimmage

Two weeks in a row the Cards defense has faced top tier NFL Running Backs in Seattle’s Shaun Alexander and SF’s Frank Gore, and during both contests each of these RBs were held to under 75 yards rushing. Alexander was held to 18 first half yards and Gore was held to 55 rushing yards, meaning that the D-line for the Big Red is getting penetration and the Linebackers are flowing very well, limiting cut back opportunities and filling gaps. They face another tough challenge in RB Willis McGahee, the Ravens much-hyped off season acquisition from Buffalo. McGahee is a powerful back who has great speed and vision, making a lot of tacklers miss in the open field. Typically, any back who has the opportunity to run behind a perennial pro bowler like Ravens LT Jonathen Ogden is going to have success, but Ogden has been hampered by a nagging toe injury and is listed as day to day, which bodes well for the Cards front line.
Bottom Line: Keep doing what you’re doing boys! Keep bottling up the RB at the point of attack.

2. Contain Ravens TE Todd Heap and make him a non-factor

Cards OLB Calvin Pace did an outstanding job during week 1 against SF’s young TE Vernon Davis, shadowing him all over the field and bumping him off his routes, causing the timing to be off for QB Alex Smith. Heap is ten times more dangerous than Davis because he has better hands, runs better routes and has been in his offensive system longer. He is especially troublesome in the redzone, often out-jumping or out-muscling opponents for TDs in the endzone. He is the Ravens most consistent receiver and their go-to guy and the Cards secondary, which got chewed up by Seattle’s Matt Hasselback last week, needs to play at a higher level and contain Heap, an Arizona native and former All-American at ASU.
Bottom line: Hit ’em, hold ’em, play a safety over top of ’em, do what you have to do but don’t let Heap be a factor in Baltimore’s gameplan.

3. Run the football WELL, let Edge do his thing and use it to set up the passing game

You’ll notice I wrote that we have to run the football well!!! Edgerrin James is the NFC’s leading rusher right now, and we need to keep him in the top spot by running the ball consistently, picking up good chunks of yardage while controlling the clock. Baltimore runs a very unorthodox style of defense, they want to try to confuse Cards QB Matt Leinart with what he is seeing at the line and try to force him into a bad read or turnover. They are a very aggressive defense, which can work in our favor if we manipulate it properly. HB Draws, Counter plays, and some times just straight up Power Dive plays right into the teeth of the defense. If we establish the run early, the Ravens will be forced to stack 8 guys in the box, opening up the Cards playbook and allowing Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson to stretch the field and make some big plays off of play action.
Bottom Line: Use the run effectively to set up the pass and let your star wide-outs make some plays in space.

4. Special Teams will be the difference maker in this game…..again

Cards PK Neil Rackers is probably still running around screaming and pumping his fists in the air somewhere, and he deserves to. So do Special Teamers Sean Morey and Oliver Celestin who both made huge plays as part of the punt and punt return units last week, each leading to a Cardinals score. But field position is going to be the difference in this one. These guys along with the rest of the special teams comrades may not get all the pub, but they will be the reason we win or lose this game. We need to establish good field position and we need good coverage from our punt team because Ravens safety Ed Reed doubles as a returner and has already taken one to the house this year.
Bottom Line: Rackers needs to make the most of every opportunity he gets as the difference in the score will likely be 3 points.

We can do this, last week was huge for this team. But it’s time to build off of it, to use that momentum and carry it through the rest of the year.

My Prediction: Arizona pulls it out over Baltimore 24 – 21.


Mike Duggan