Heading into the second week of the NFL season, the Arizona Cardinals were flying high, hoping to maintain their undefeated record. Baltimore played as the backdrop for a tense game featuring two talented and young quarterbacks. While the final score broke the way of the Baltimore Ravens, the game itself kept fans at the edge of their seats. Arizona continues knocking at the chamber door, looking for its first victory.
The Grotesque Defense
Through two games, Arizona’s defense has surrendered 298 yards on the ground. They’ve given up 619 yards through the air. Baltimore finished Sunday’s game with 182 yards on the ground and 272 yards passing. The Ravens featured a balanced attack that kept the Arizona defense off kilt. Baltimore’s starting running back, Mark Ingram, finished with just 47 yards on 13 rushes. However, it was the quarterback who hurt the Cardinals the most on Sunday.
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Lamar Jackson took over the game from the quarterback position. Arizona was unable to knock Jackson off his rhythm. Jackson looked comfortable in the pocket and found receivers with excellent passes. What doomed the Cardinals was the lack of containment of Jackson. The second-year quarterback found room on the ground after the pocket collapsed. On multiple occasions, Baltimore’s offense earned an extra set of downs after a Jackson scramble. The issues could be tied to an overall lack of team speed. Or it could just be another rough year for the Arizona defense.
One of the negative hallmarks of offenses such as the Air Raid or Run N Shoot is their struggles inside the red zone. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense relies on proper spacing and fitting receivers into open holes in coverage. When the field is compacted near the end zone, the windows become tighter and space becomes scarce. It has been a consistent knock against offenses similar to the Air Raid. On Sunday, the problem reared its ugly head.
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On the day, the Cardinals thrice kicked a field goal with the line of scrimmage coming from the five-yard line or closer. Each of those drives featured a goal-to-go situation where the Cardinals were unable to get into the end zone. In a game that ended in a six-point loss, converting just one or two of those drives would have likely meant a victory. The offense figured it out by the end with a one-yard run by David Johnson. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late for the Cardinals.
The early part of the NFL season must be viewed through the filter that is context. It is important to not lose sight of where expectations sat before the first game of the season. With that in mind, it is in that context that we draw our biggest lesson from Sunday’s loss: These Cardinals are heading in the right direction. It may be surprising to see for some but the 2019 edition of the Cardinals stand in stark contrast from the 4-12 outfit of a year ago.
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For starters, Kingsbury’s Cardinals fought valiantly in Baltimore. Early on it seemed like the Ravens would run away with the game. Arizona began to settle down as the offense found ways to sustain drives and get points on the board. Eventually, the defense stiffened up and did an admirable job of slowing down Jackson and the Baltimore offense. Kyler Murray continues to look the part of a franchise quarterback. Between the ’20s, the Cardinals offense displayed the type of firepower that Air Raid fans have come to expect. Arizona will not contend for a playoff spot this season but they’re close to turning it around.