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Ravens vs. Cardinals key matchups: Preventing Marquise Brown’s revenge among top priorities

This interconference heavyweight bout features key battles between specific players, units, and coaches.

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens will be back on the road in Week 8, where they’ll face off with the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on Sunday. They are mighty road favorites in this interconference matchup, facing a competitive one-win opponent but one they should beat soundly. Their hosts are coming off their fourth straight loss in Week 7 at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.

However, games aren’t won on paper or decided by betting odds. There are some pivotal matchups between individual players, units, and coaches that will go a long way in determining the outcome of this contest.

Below are a handful of those key battles that could prove to be deciding factors in helping the Ravens avoid falling victim to a trap game.

QB Lamar Jackson v. Cardinals secondary

Jackson is coming off his most potent and productive passing performance of the season in Week 7, which earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the ninth time in his career. The MVP frontrunner will now face another suspect pass defense which bodes well toward the likelihood of another strong performance.

Arizona has given up the seventh-most passing yards through the first seven weeks, is tied for the fourth-most passing touchdowns given up (11), and is allowing the third-most yards per attempt (8.1) and the third-best opposing passer rating (102.6).

While the Cardinals’ starting defensive backfield does feature a five-time Pro Bowl strong safety in Budda Baker, they’re also starting undrafted rookie Starling Thomas V and third-year pro Marco Wilson on the outside at cornerback. They have allowed four touchdown passes between them and are each allowing over 70 percent of passes to be completed, as well as opposing passer ratings of 128.5 or higher. Their starting free safety, Jalen Thompson, has been a limited participant in practice with a hamstring injury. So, even if he does play, it likely won’t be at or near full strength.

All these factors, coupled with the fact that the Ravens’ passing attack appears to finally be hitting its stride, have the makings of another stellar performance for Jackson to further bolster his second MVP candidacy. Expect to see big days for one or more of the Ravens’ wide receivers, especially standout rookie Zay Flowers. Flowers will be looking for his first regular-season touchdown on U.S. soil after scoring the first of his career overseas in London two weeks ago.

Ravens’ offensive line v. Cardinals’ run defense

As bad as Arizona is in pass defense, they’re even more susceptible to getting gashed on the ground. They’ve given up the third-most rushing yards in the league through seven games and are allowing an average of 130.7 yards per game. Baltimore comes rolling in with one of the best rushing attacks in the league. They’ve racked up the second-most yards on the ground in the league while averaging the third-most yards per game with 145. In addition, they’ve scored the third-most rushing touchdowns (11).

In addition to keeping Jackson clean in the pocket, the Ravens’ starting offensive line and any other extra blockers they bring onto the field will be tasked with opening up holes in the run game. This could be the week that the offense sees their first 100-plus-yard rusher who isn’t Jackson.

Ravens’ front seven v. Cardinals’ rush offense

On the opposite side of the trenches, Baltimore’s defense will also be tasked with limiting a Top-5 rushing attack. Arizona has racked up the fifth-most rushing yards through seven games and is averaging the sixth-most yards per game with 139. They incorporate the quarterback position heavily in their run game with veteran Josh Dobbs as their second-leading rusher, who has 232 rushing yards and averages 5.7 yards per carry.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they will be without their leading rusher for the third week in a row two-time Pro Bowler James Connor remains on injured reserve. They’ll be up against an elite Ravens’ defense that is allowing the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game and average of just 4.1 yards per play overall, which is the lowest mark in the league.

Arizona was still able to manage to average 128.5 rushing yards in the past two games with Connor out. However, neither game came against a ferocious front that is spearheaded by an elite inside linebacker tandem such as Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen. The Ravens’ front seven is also anchored by a strong interior defensive line and outside linebackers, who can set the edge and make tough sledding between the tackles.

Mike Macdonald v. Cardinals’ quarterback

According to reports, Arizona isn’t expected to start their franchise signal caller, Kyler Murray, on Sunday against the Ravens. However, the two-time Pro Bowler was completely removed from the team’s injury report on Thursda. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, that “doesn’t necessarily mean he’s playing this week, just that his knee injury is no longer limiting his practice work.”

Whether it is Murray or Dobbs, the Ravens are preparing for either eventuality.

“You have to be ready for him,” Macdonald said Thursday. “Obviously, there’s no reps [on tape] of him this year in this [offensive] system, so you would try to marry his skillset and what you’ve seen in the past with what they’re trying to do. [It’s] not an easy task. We’ll see what happens throughout the rest of the week, but it’s definitely something you have to be ready for if he is out there.”

Dobbs has been the Cardinals’ starter under center for the first seven weeks and has done a good job of keeping them competitive in most of their games. The seventh-year veteran led them to a shocking Week 3 upset of the Dallas Cowboys for their lone win of the season thus far.

“They still have their quarterback runs and Dobbs is running as well as anybody in the league from the quarterback spot,” Queen said. “Kyler is a different player and more electric and stuff, but it should for the most part be the same offense.”

Ravens’ pass rush v. Cardinals’ offensive line

Macdonald’s unit leads the league in sacks with 29 through seven games. No matter who line up under center for Arizona on Sunday, they will likely be under duress for much of the game. The Ravens can generate pressure from just about anywhere and every way imaginable. They can win with deception, delayed blitzes from depth, nickel blitzes off either or both edges, and traditional four-man rushes — as well as stunts and twists.

The Cardinals’ offensive line is tied for the seventh-fewest sacks allowed in the league with 15 through seven games. One of the teams they’re tied with is the Lions, who had only given up 10 in six games before they crossed paths with the Ravens. The Ravens have a dozen different players with at least one sack and five players with three or more, including one from each level of the defense. A key individual matchup to watch will be Arizona’s first-round starting right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. going up against savvy veteran edge defenders Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, who have been playing their best as of late.

Ravens’ cornerbacks vs. WR Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown

Several members of Baltimore’s secondary will be facing their former teammate for the first time in a regular season game since he was traded to the Cardinals last offseason. The former Ravens’ first-rounder in 2019 leads his current team in targets (60), receptions (32), receiving yards (383), and touchdowns (three).

Brown is still a big-play threat that possesses the speed to take the top off of a defense if not held in check. The primary responsibility of limiting his impact will be on both three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey and third-year pro Brandon Stephens. Also included is seventh-year veteran Arthur Maulet, who has been playing in the nickel spot. This could be a week where Humphrey bumps inside to the slot to follow Brown if and when needed.

The Cardinals have a pretty solid rookie receiver in third-rounder Michael Wilson, who is second on the team in receiving yards (343) and touchdowns (two). He ranks first in yards per reception (16.3). At 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, he’ll be an ideal matchup for Stephens, who does well against bigger-bodied receivers.