The Ravens normally relish a prime-time game to show the country just how good they are.
But there’s nowhere to hide on Monday night as they limp into Arizona with a 1-5 record to take on a Cardinals team atop the NFC West.
To say John Harbaugh and Baltimore don’t have a shot would be silly — it’s the NFL, after all — but there’s not much reason for optimism looking at this matchup on paper or if you’ve simply watched the Ravens play this season. Making matters worse is the health of the secondary as cornerback Lardarius Webb (hamstring) and safety Kendrick Lewis (knee) are both questionable for the league’s 27th-ranked pass defense that will try to slow Carson Palmer and the NFL’s ninth-best passing attack.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet the Cardinals for the first time since 2011, a game that produced the largest comeback victory in franchise history. Holding a 4-1 all-time record against Arizona, Baltimore will be playing its first game at University of Phoenix Stadium while the Cardinals seek their first win over the Ravens since a 1997 contest played at Memorial Stadium.
Here’s what to expect as the Ravens attempt to win their fifth consecutive game against the Cardinals …
1. Justin Forsett will touch the ball 25 times and score a touchdown with more than 100 yards from scrimmage. If you’re looking for a weakness on their defense, the Cardinals have been underwhelming stopping the run as they’ve allowed 4.1 yards per carry, ranking 21st in the NFL. The Ravens will surely want to keep one of the most prolific offenses in the league on the sideline as much as possible, so controlling the clock and trying to play field position would figure to be the best way to do it. With Patrick Peterson likely clamping down on Steve Smith for much of the night, the Ravens will need Forsett to keep them in third-and-manageable situations to make this one close.
2. Joe Flacco will throw an interception to Tyrann Mathieu that will set up an Arizona score. The Cardinals rank fourth in the NFL with 13 takeaways and have intercepted opponents a league-leading 11 times in six games. This is bad news for Flacco, who has thrown seven interceptions so far this season. With little fear of the Ravens beating the Arizona secondary deep, the free safety Mathieu will have a chance to display his ball-hawking skills and that will pay off with a pick and a long return to put the Cardinals on a short field. General manager Ozzie Newsome needs to find more explosive weapons for his quarterback, but that doesn’t excuse Flacco from committing costly turnovers this year.
3. Jimmy Smith will do a solid job shadowing Larry Fitzgerald, but John Brown and Michael Floyd will catch touchdowns against the Ravens secondary. Webb figures to return to action, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees will still be faced with the dilemma of how to handle the nickel package with neither Kyle Arrington nor Shareece Wright inspiring trust. It makes sense to allow Smith to take on the 6-foot-3 Fitzgerald, but Brown provides a speed threat that the Ravens will need to account for and Floyd also brings good size inside the red zone. Baltimore can hope Brown’s hamstring issue limits his speed, but there are just too many weapons for a poor pass defense to neutralize.
4. Jeremy Ross will catch his first touchdown pass as a member of the Ravens. He’s not a long-term fix, but the former Detroit Lion has five catches for 58 yards in limited snaps over two games compared to Marlon Brown’s 10 receptions and 84 receiving yards while playing extensively in six contests. In other words, it’s time to see what Ross and others such as Chris Givens and Darren Waller can do with Brown being so unproductive. Ross brings some experience at receiver from his days in Detroit and adds much-needed speed to the equation. That will pay off with Flacco throwing his first touchdown to a wide receiver not named Smith or Kamar Aiken this season.
5. Palmer will become the latest quarterback to burn Baltimore in a 31-17 final. There’s a mixed history between Palmer and the Ravens, but none of that means anything with this defense being a shell of what it used to be and the veteran revitalized with a flash group of weapons to throw to. Baltimore will compete for a large portion of this game, but the Cardinals are just a much better football team right now. All five of the Ravens’ defeats this year have been by six or fewer points, but that streak will come to an end with a double-digit loss. It’s difficult to recall the last time there was so much pessimism while previewing an upcoming Ravens game, but that’s what happens when you’re 1-5.