The Baltimore Ravens followed up their most impressive performance of the season with a commanding 31-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8. In a game that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests, the team played sloppily at times on both sides of the ball but still managed to make the plays needed to come out on top. The offense still put up 30-plus points and was perfect in the red zone while the defense was lights out for the first 50 minutes of the interconference matchup outside of the opening drive before giving up 17 points in garbage time.
Some of the top takeaways from the Ravens lopsided Week 8 victory:
Ravens don’t let mistakes keep them from finishing
The Ravens trailed for less than six minutes of game time after the defense allowed their first opening-drive touchdown of the season. Their offense would respond with one of their own and the team would never trail again although that didn’t stop the Cardinals from trying to make things interesting and keeping the game close for a lot longer than many expected. Nevertheless, the Ravens were able to make the plays they needed to get ahead and stay ahead and didn’t let familiar flaws from their previous losses this season cause their mistakes to snowball.
Typically whenever their future Hall of Fame kicker who is also the most accurate in NFL history misses a kick, it’s a bad omen that it might be ‘one of those days’ for the Ravens but it wasn’t. His missed 53-yarder that bounced off the left upright was preceded by a play in which quarterback Lamar Jackson was nearly charged with his eighth fumble of the season. But a review determined that his arm was coming forward and the call was overturned into an incomplete pass. On the play that preceded that another near disaster was averted when running back Gus Edwards fumbled the ball after picking up five yards on a check down but he luckily was able to fall on the loose ball.
In their two losses this season, the Ravens didn’t get those lucky breaks and those turnovers resulted in momentum-swinging plays for their outmatched opponents that allowed them to keep the game close. While the offense did go on to have back-to-back three-and-outs, they would eventually find their footing just before halftime and in the second toward the end of the third quarter thanks to some complementary play by the defense.
Mike Macdonald’s unit played fantastic for the first three quarters before giving up a trio of late-scoring drives when victory was well in hand. After allowing a touchdown on the opening possession, they went on to force back-to-back turnovers on downs, four punts, a pair of interceptions, and a forced fumble prior to allowing a pair of touchdowns and a field goal in the final 10 minutes.
The fact that the Ravens are proving that they can win games even when they are not playing at their best for all four quarters is a testament to how resilient, resourceful, and talented this year’s team is on the same day that other top teams either struggled to or couldn’t overcome adversity. The defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs lost to the lowly Denver Broncos for the first time since the Obama administration, the San Francisco 49ers lost their third straight to the previously struggling Cincinnati Bengals, and the Philadelphia Eagles had to mount a comeback to beat the middling Washington Commanders.
“This team is special… We’re never satisfied. This is just the beginning.” pic.twitter.com/22xITQrC5v— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 30, 2023
“You’re just not going to be hitting on every cylinder every single week,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “You have to find a way to win those games. I think the best teams over time prove that they’ll win games even when they’re not at their best. They’ll find a way to win games late. They’ll find a way to win a game when they can’t run it, when they can’t throw it, or when they can’t stop something. They’ll still find a way to win the game. Really, that’s players. That’s character. That’s also talent, ability [and] confident guys who can make plays. I felt like our guys did a good job of that today.”
Red zone offense continues to capitalize
Even though the unit didn’t score four straight touchdowns to open the game as they did last week against the Detroit Lions, they still made the most of their opportunities when they got inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Ravens were a perfect 4-of-4 in the red zone against the Cardinals on Sunday and showed improvement in their ability to punch the ball across the goal line in short-yardage situations.
Their only touchdown through the air on the day came on a five-yard strike from Jackson to Andrews to cap off their first possession of the game. While he didn’t have another MVP-caliber performance and there were times that he held the ball too long resulting in sacks or decided too late to take off, the two-time Pro Bowl signal caller still had a very efficient game finishing 18-of-27 for 157 passing yards and a passer rating of 94.2.
Michael Pierce was a one-man wrecking machine
The Ravens had several of their less heralded players step up and make impactful plays in this game but none were more impressive than the veteran nose tackle who had his best game not just of the season but since returning for his second stint with the team. Pierce finished with five total tackles including four solos and one for a loss, a pass deflection, a strip-sack, and a quarterback hit.
Michael Pierce talks about being "in the zone" today. pic.twitter.com/GknO82vnAG— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 30, 2023
“Today, it was a good day for me, obviously,” Pierce said. “But, you can definitely be ‘in the zone.’ Like I said, it can be a lot less eye-popping or highlight-worthy plays, but definitely. You definitely can.”
His splash plays weren’t just impressive, they were clutch and came on high-leverage downs. He single-handedly forced the defense’s back-to-back turnover on downs in the second quarter on a pair of fourth-and-shorts by batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage on the first and beating his blocks and tackling Cardinals running back Emari Demercado for no gain. On his first sack since the 2021 season, Pierce engulfed Arizona quarterback Josh Dobbs on a stunt and ripped the ball out of grasp before he hit the ground. It came on a third-and-11 early in the third quarter, resulting in a fourth-and-36 after veteran outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney couldn’t coral the loose ball for a turnover.
“Mike was dominant,” Harbaugh said. “He just took over the game inside...Somebody has to do something to make the plays and keep it going, and I just felt like Michael was definitely that guy for us.”
Defense sparked offense with timely turnovers
Pierce was far from the only defender who made big plays that helped turn the tide of the game in the Ravens’ favor and help them take control. When the Ravens offense began to sputter in the second and third quarters, the defense gave them a jumpstart late in each period with a clutch takeaway to give them a shorter field to work with.
Just before the two-minute warning in the second quarter, third-year cornerback Brandon Stephens hauled in an overthrown pass by Dobbs for the first turnover of the day and his second interception not only of the season but his career. It gave the ball back to the offense already across midfield at the Arizona 43-yard line and they would proceed to go on a seven-play scoring drive for a touchdown to break the 7-7 tie by giving them a 14-7 lead.
With just under two minutes left in a third quarter that featured three Ravens’ punts to two of the Cardinals, fourth-year safety Geno Stone robbed Stephens of his second interception of the game by jumping in front of him to snag his fifth of the season to extend his league-lead. It came on the first play of Arizona’s third possession in the second half and set the Ravens’ offense up with just 23 yards to go before paydirt. It would only take them four plays to find it and go up by two scores.
“They were huge,” Andrews said. “All year, the defense has been getting timely turnovers, and for us to go and capitalize that and get points off those is big.”
Establishing the run remains key to offensive success
After being held to under 30 rushing yards in a more competitive-than-expected first half, the Ravens leaned on their ground game in the second half and rode the wheels of Gus the Bus to glory. They flipped from a pass-happy script in the first half where Jackson threw the ball 18 times to grinding out 102 of their 130 total yards gained on the ground in the final two quarters.
“We were trying to go right at them and attack them in certain ways with their coverage,” Harbaugh said. “We had some success doing it, but to get the run game going in the second half was big.”
Edwards was excellent all game but especially in the second half when the team needed to eat up some clock and punch the ball across the goal line to extend their lead. He ran extremely hard through contact, made sharp cuts, and churned several rugged chain-moving runs.
“I believe his runs were huge” Jackson said. He made great cuts [and] great runs. [The] offensive line did a great job. We need more of that.”
The sixth-year veteran scored two of his three touchdowns after halftime and finished with a game-high 80 rushing yards on 19 carries. His hat trick made him the first Raven to record three rushing touchdowns in the same game since his former teammate and mentor, Mark Ingram, did so in Week 3 of the 2019 season in a 33-28 loss to the Chiefs.
As impressive and explosive as the strides that the Ravens have shown they’ve made in the passing game, being able to stay balanced with a potent rushing attack is still integral to their success on that side of the ball. It not only keeps the opposing defense guessing and sometimes off-balance but it keeps their own defense off the field and fresh, as well as helps open up more of the offense and allows them to dictate the pass of the game by imposing their will on the other team.
“I believe we should have been running a little bit [to] just balance out our offense out because last week when we were balancing our offense, we showed strides of being great all across the board,” Jackson said.