A pair of 22-year-old starting quarterbacks may not produce an instant classic Sunday, but it’s the kind of matchup that makes you ponder an exciting future as the Ravens host Arizona.
Lamar Jackson took a dramatic leap forward with his five-touchdown performance in the season opener while Kyler Murray showed his promise late as the Cardinals rallied to force a Week 1 tie with Detroit last week. Of course, Jackson has a head start in his development after helping lead the Ravens to their first AFC North title since 2012 last season, and one could argue his early success was a factor leading teams to view Murray differently as he was taken first overall by the Cardinals in April.
That story aside, Baltimore aims to begin 2-0 for the third time in the last four seasons before a challenging trip to Kansas City next week.
It’s time to go on the record as the Cardinals play the Ravens for the seventh time in their history with Baltimore leading the all-time regular-season series 4-2. Arizona won the most recent meeting in 2015, but the Ravens are 2-1 against the Cardinals in Baltimore with the only loss coming at Memorial Stadium back in 1997.
Below are five predictions for Sunday:
1. Lamar Jackson will rush for 50 yards and throw touchdowns to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead. Jackson made his harshest critics look foolish with a record-setting performance in Week 1, but you hope expectations haven’t swung too far in the opposite direction as some are already touting him as an MVP candidate. I’m not buying his three rushing attempts becoming the new norm, especially with teams seeing you can’t sell out to take his legs away without consequences through the air. Arizona gave up a combined 13 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns to Detroit slot receiver Danny Amendola and tight end T.J. Hockenson last week. That bodes well for Snead and Andrews.
2. Terrell Suggs will register a strip-sack in his return to Baltimore. Questions about how the 36-year-old former Raven will hold up over a full campaign are more than fair based on the last few seasons, but Suggs was very active in his Cardinals debut with two sacks, one of them resulting in a fumble. Lost in Jackson’s Week 1 passing brilliance was that he didn’t fumble in a game he started for the first time in his career, an encouraging development. Offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. will have their hands full against Suggs and two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Chandler Jones, and Suggs will have active hands knowing Jackson’s problems with ball security last year.
3. Baltimore will bat three passes at the line of scrimmage, one leading to an interception. Shorter quarterbacks are capable of NFL success, but the 5-foot-10 Murray had four passes batted down at the line of scrimmage last week, which did little to quell concerns about his stature. The rookie didn’t push the ball down the field a ton, but he threw it in every direction, making it critical for Baltimore pass rushers to get their hands up in passing lanes. Pernell McPhee and Chris Wormley have the potential to be big factors as inside rushers since the Ravens must be disciplined on the edge against a mobile quarterback who throws on the run effectively.
4. David Johnson will pick up 110 total yards and a touchdown in Arizona’s four-wide offense. With no disrespect meant toward Larry Fitzgerald, the rest of the Cardinals wide receivers don’t scare you from a matchup standpoint. However, Kliff Kingsbury used four wide receivers on two-thirds of Arizona’s plays in Week 1, which could open things for Johnson as a receiver down the seam. It’ll be fascinating to see how Wink Martindale attacks a unique offense with a group of cornerbacks at less than full strength, but his inside linebackers will be tested more this week against Johnson, who will try to slip out of the backfield to try to neutralize the pass rush against a rookie quarterback.
5. The Ravens will not dominate to the degree they did in Miami, but the outcome won’t be in doubt in a 31-14 win. I have a tough time seeing a path to victory for the Cardinals that doesn’t include multiple Baltimore turnovers or a couple injuries at key positions, but Murray’s performance over the final 25 minutes last week reiterates that the Ravens shouldn’t take this team lightly as the rookie will show his potential on a couple scoring drives. We’ll see a less spectacular but more balanced performance from Jackson, who will make plays with his arm and his legs to the delight of an energetic home crowd. Arizona will be more careful in pass coverage than the Dolphins were, but that will open up more room for Mark Ingram and the Baltimore rushing attack to control the tempo and the clock. The Ravens know they need a 2-0 start with the schedule toughening up considerably beginning next week, and John Harbaugh’s team will take care of business in comfortable fashion.