The Arizona Cardinals landed in Baltimore ready to take on the Ravens. In the first half, the Cardinals completed key plays on offense and dialed up atypical pressure on the Ravens offense. Patrick Peterson and the Cardinals special teams almost took the heart out of the Ravens with a game-changing punt return for touchdown.
The Ravens, however, are the ones that walked away with a victory off the foot of kicker Billy Cundiff, who won the game for Baltimore with a last-second field goal (pictured above).
Even though it came up short, with this game Arizona found its identity and, as I reported earlier in the week, looks like a team that will have a solid second half of the season.
For the first six weeks of the season, the Cardinals may have hidden their report card from their parents; this week, it goes on the fridge.
The Arizona offensive line played the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde against the Baltimore Ravens defense.
The offensive line played well in the run game, mauling the Ravens' stout front seven at will.
When it came to protecting quarterback Kevin Kolb, however, they switched uniforms and forced Kolb to play a matador ducking untouched linebackers. In the final Cardinal drive with just over one minute remaining in the game, the offensive line gave up a critical sack.
The offensive line maintained a key role in Arizona's early success against the Ravens, but it also played ambassador to much frustration in the passing game. It played just as much of a role in the demise of the Cardinals.
Arizona running back Beanie Wells wasn't sure if he was going to play this Sunday against the Ravens. Scratch that. Wells maintained all week that he was going to play; it was the coaches and medical staff who were questioning whether Wells could take the field.
If you've seen Wells play, either at Ohio State or with the Cardinals, then you know he is one of the toughest running backs in the league. Each week it seems as though he's knocking defenders' helmets right off their heads.
So when it came to this week, Wells was determined to play. That determination showed on the field. Wells stampeded for 83 yards and one touchdown.
Wells is the heart of the offense—and arguably the entire Arizona team. He will be a key to the Cardinals' success in the second-half of the season.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Early Doucet is pictured to the left. Look at his expression—it's like he couldn't believe he scored a touchdown. The reaction is understandable: Doucet hasn't caught a touchdown since the first week of the season.
The entire Cardinal passing attack has been stagnant this season.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter against the Ravens, no Cardinals pass-catcher had more than two catches. The catches they did have, however, were key.
Larry Fitzgerald had a key reception in the first half for 66 yards that set up a Cardinal field goal. Doucet had the Cardinals' lone passing score that I think he's still verifying—he just couldn't believe he caught a touchdown.
The wide receivers get a passing grade because a lot goes into their success. They rely on the offensive line to provide Kevin Kolb with time to throw, and they rely on Kolb to make an accurate throw. Rarely do all those components work well together—hence, the Cardinals' struggling passing game.
Each week the passing game is getting better; it's just not where it needs to be right now.
Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb showed a lot of progress against the Ravens.
Earlier in the week, Kolb talked about how difficult it has been for him to unlearn the Philadelphia Eagles passing system and take on the complexities of the Cardinals system. He discussed the differences in the footwork.
After watching Kolb against the Ravens, I think I know what he was talking about—he constantly has to scramble, juke and run from defenders. Any quarterback would have a hard time mastering that kind of footwork.
Against the Ravens, Kolb showed great vision. He was pressured out of the pocket and could've made a couple of short runs, but instead he kept his eyes upfield and hit a receiver for a long gain.
He's showing promise. Maybe not $63.5 million worth of promise, but promise nonetheless.
Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell and the rest of the Cardinal defensive line started slow against the Ravens.
In the first quarter, they provided little to no pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco.
They picked it up in the second quarter—Flacco was chased out of the pocket, and the defensive line recorded several hurries and knockdowns along with three sacks. Flacco also helped their cause by overthrowing several receivers.
The bad mark for the defensive line, however, was its inability to stop the Ravens running game. The Ravens averaged 4.5 yards per carry and seemed to run at will against the Cardinals. Running back Ray Rice also recorded three scores, albeit from very short distances after penalties.
Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton has been stressing this season that the Cardinal linebackers need to maintain gap integrity. In other words, the linebackers need to fill the gaps between the defensive linemen.
Against the Ravens, the linebackers showed that they failed to learn that lesson from Horton.
Ravens running back Ray Rice visited the end zone on three occasions—twice untouched. They even let backup running back Ricky Williams take vintage form and average 7.3 yards on his four carries.
Rookie linebacker Sam Acho (filling in for injured Joey Porter) and fellow linebacker O'Brien Schofield each recorded a sack on quarterback Joe Flacco.
The tandem flashed great potential in an aggressive defensive scheme early in the game. They will need to maintain that high level of play for four quarters, however, if they want to turn these close games into wins instead of losses.
The Baltimore Ravens put on a passing clinic against the Arizona Cardinals. Quarterback Joe Flacco knew going in that the Cardinals were one of the softest secondaries in the league. He seemed to identify the weakest link in that powder-puff group: A.J. Jefferson.
Late in the third quarter, Flacco targeted wide receiver Anquan Boldin on almost every play. Perhaps it was because Jefferson was matched up on Boldin. In any event, on that drive alone, Boldin caught four passes for 80 yards. Running back Ray Rice finished the drive off with a one-yard touchdown run after a pass interference call on Boldin in the end zone.
Throughout the game, the Cardinals secondary was picked apart. Sure, cornerback Richard Marshall picked off Joe Flacco once, but Flacco picked on Marshall all game—including a back-breaking 36-yard pass to rookie wideout Torrey Smith with 0:48 left in the game.
Instead of forcing overtime, the Cardinals secondary gave up yet another close game that could have been won.
The Arizona Cardinals defense looked tenacious against the Baltimore Ravens. They blitzed on nearly every play and had quarterback Joe Flacco unable to find his rhythm for most of the game.
The defensive schemes that Cardinal defensive coordinator Ray Horton showed the Ravens had them guessing and had the home crowd booing their own team. Horton dialed up blitz packages that caused Flacco to turn the ball over at the Cardinals 2-yard line. Running back Beanie Wells leaped into the end zone following the turnover.
The Ravens didn't find their groove until they switched to their no-huddle offense—and then the tide changed.
Horton was able to keep the game close, but with the penalties drawn by his puppets, the Ravens were able to punch in three short-yardage touchdowns.
Even though Arizona suffered a heartbreaking loss on a last-second Ravens field goal, Horton showed that this Cardinals team can stop a high-powered offense. Good things are sure to follow.
OK, I admit it. This one was just thrown in for your viewing pleasure. But hey, I think they did a good job against the Baltimore Ravens. I really do. Go Cardinals!