Heading into the season, the Arizona Cardinals hoped they had fixed a faulty run defense. On Sunday, the Cardinals hope to contain the Ravens offense and their second-year quarterback, Lamar Jackson. A 50-point performance in week one for Baltimore was eye-opening. Ahead of Sunday’s road clash, we take a look at how the Cardinals defense will defend the former Louisville Cardinal, leading Baltimore’s offense.
I Choose You
Lamar Jackson is a tremendous athlete. His ability was on display in college while at Louisville. The quarterback is a former Heisman Trophy winner and ran one of the most explosive offenses in the country. In the NFL, Jackson has shown flashes of brilliance. His running is currently his biggest asset, but he has begun to display the ability to beat opponents with his arm. A full offseason has allowed him to find a way to get in and fit in as Ravens quarterback. Jackson fileted the Dolphins defense, throwing for 324 yards and five touchdowns while completing 17 of 20 attempts.
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Arizona’s pass defense must improve after a lackluster showing against the Lions. The Ravens try to keep throws to the middle of the field. Jackson’s biggest weakness on the route tree comes when the ball must go outside the numbers and rely on timing. Arizona should work to maintain inside leverage in pass coverage. Force Jackson to make the throws outside and on time. If he struggles, there will be ample opportunity to take away the football.
The Way You Move
Baltimore’s offensive coordinator should be a familiar name to Cardinal fans. Greg Roman led the offensive charge with the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 through 2014. Roman’s offense relies heavily on the ground game, mixed with a healthy variety of play-action passing. The play-action concepts often leave the offensive player open like a foyer. He specializes in utilizing the tools of a dual-threat quarterback, something he’s had in each of his last two coordinator positions. The simple answer to stopping a Greg Roman offense is to shut down the run.
In six full season as an offensive coordinator, Roman’s offenses have never finished outside the top ten, in rushing yards. The worst finish came in Roman’s first season as an NFL offensive coordinator, an eighth-place performance by the 49ers’ 2011 season. Since that time, his offenses have never been lower than fourth in the league. However, Roman’s passing offense is the polar opposite. Keeping the Ravens on the wrong side of down and distance is imperative to slow down the Baltimore attack. Arizona’s pass rush has the ability to cause problems, but it won’t get going if the Ravens’ ground game takes over.
A simple goal for the Cardinals defense would be to play better than the Dolphins in week one. The Cardinals had their rough moments against the Lions but held strong long enough for the offense to close the gap. Jackson’s strengths are highlighted by Roman’s affinity for the ground game. Against Baltimore, stopping the ground game involves more than penetration at the point of attack. The Ravens will utilize read-option runs. Arizona needs to maintain containment and avoid giving the edge to Jackson or the Baltimore running backs.
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Setting the edge keeps everything inside while allowing the defense to flow to the football. At the end of the day, the defense must play with control, avoiding over-pursuit and getting caught out of position. To borrow from another avian offering, the Dolphins resembled a chicken without its head. Baltimore’s balanced attack causes confusion for defenses. Arizona needs to be more like the rooster, strong and purposeful, with the swagger needed to make plays.
The Whole World
The Cardinals’ defense will have its hands full on Sunday. Baltimore showed off a terrifying attack against Miami and the Arizona defense has struggled over the last two seasons. Forcing Lamar Jackson into uncomfortable situations will be the key to an Arizona victory. A successful defense will find ways to avoid giving the Ravens quarterback a pocket that is so fresh and so clean. Here’s to hoping the Cardinals can git up and git out of Baltimore with a victory.
Prediction: The Cardinals’ defense will not shut down the Ravens offense. However, they will perform much better than many expect. Ultimately, the Ravens are a better team and take advantage of too many mistakes by the Arizona defense.