On paper, it appears to be a mismatch as the Baltimore Ravens travel to face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.
The first-place Ravens (5-2), who are 3-1 on the road, sit one-half game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) and Cleveland Browns (4-2) in the AFC North and are coming off a 38-6 destruction of the Detroit Lions.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals (1-6) have lost four consecutive games by a combined score of 115-55 largely because they are a different team in the second half, especially the fourth quarter. They have been outscored 104-30 in the second half and 67-7 in the final 15 minutes. In their six losses, they have yet to score in the fourth quarter, having been shut out 64-0.
The Arizona defense fights to keep the team close, but the offense, quarterbacked by Joshua Dobbs, has been inconsistent. Dobbs will remain in the role on Sunday as the Cardinals’ No. 1 quarterback, Kyler Murray, was not activated from the physically unable to perform list for the game.
Murray hasn’t played this season while completing his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained last December. He is fully healthy, according to coach Jonathan Gannon, and he practiced in full on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Even assessing Arizona’s play with a backup QB, Ravens coach John Harbaugh doesn’t view the Cardinals as a typical one-win team.
“All you’ve got to do is watch the tape, and you see how physical (they) are, how tough they are, how competitive they are of a team,” Harbaugh said. “And if we haven’t learned that, if we have anybody on our team that doesn’t understand how the NFL works, I’d be really disappointed. That’s something that would really be a disappointment, and I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed that way.”
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, has completed a career-high 71 percent of his passes, averaging 8.05 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns and a passer rating of 101.9. He also has 363 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
The fast-starting Ravens have outscored their opponents 55-6 in the first quarter.
Against the Lions, the Ravens gained 503 yards (9.1 yards per play), and Jackson was 21-for-27 for 357 yards and three touchdowns while adding a rushing touchdown.
His favorite targets are first-round rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers (39 catches, 442 yards, one touchdown) and tight end Mark Andrews (28-357-5).
Gannon acknowledges the challenge his defense will face, saying, “The quarterback is dynamic. I know that they’ve got a lot of good skill players, a good system and a good football team. I (coached) against (Jackson) a couple of times. His skillset is unique to the quarterback position and he plays at an extremely high level.”
Jackson was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week while becoming the fourth player in NFL history to pass for at least 350 yards, throw three-plus touchdown passes, add a rushing TD and have a passer rating of 150-plus in a game. He also reached 50 wins in the fifth-fewest starts (68) in the Super Bowl era.
Meanwhile, after a solid start to the season, Dobbs has struggled in the past three games, completing 51.9 percent of his passes with passer ratings of 57.6, 58.5 and 68.5. For the season, his average per attempt is 5.94 with an 81.8 passer rating, tied for 23rd in the league. In the Cardinals’ 20-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week, he had only 106 passing yards before adding 40 to the total in the meaningless final possession of the game.
He has helped the offense on the ground this year, amassing 232 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
The Cardinals will be playing their third game without running back James Conner, who is on reserve/injured with a knee injury. Arizona is using a committee approach led by rookie Emari Demercado, Keaontay Ingram and Damien Williams.
Tight end Zach Ertz was placed on IR this week because of a strained quadriceps. Ertz hadn’t been the same player as in the past coming back from a torn ACL sustained last November. He has 27 receptions this season, but for only 187 yards (6.9-yard average) and one touchdown.
Wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is Arizona’s leading pass catcher (32-383-3), while tight end Trey McBride (15-170-0) likely will be targeted more with Ertz out.
Cardinals safety Jalen Thompson (hamstring) returned to practice Wednesday after missing two games and was limited, while Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith did not practice because of a shoulder injury.