Analysis of the Ravens and Arizona Cardinals' offense, defense, special teams and intangibles.
RAVENS: It's beginning to look a lot like 2013 for quarterback Joe Flacco, who is struggling to connect on big plays down the field and making far too many mistakes. Only four NFL quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than Flacco's seven, and Flacco ranks 30th in the NFL in passing yards per attempt (6.5 yards). Flacco has been sacked one time or fewer in four of six games, so protection hasn't been an issue. However, reliable and consistent receiver play beyond Steve Smith Sr. has been.
CARDINALS: Carson Palmer looks like the quarterback that he was years ago, and Larry Fitzgerald again looks like one of the NFL's best receivers. Fitzgerald is fourth in the league in receiving yards (583) and tied for first in touchdown receptions (six) after finishing last season with 63 catches and two touchdowns. Palmer has other weapons, too. Second-year wide receiver John Brown had 10 catches for 196 yards last week. Palmer's 14 touchdown passes are the most in franchise history through the first six games. (EDGE: CARDINALS)
RAVENS: Justin Forsett and his sore ankle held up last week against the San Francisco 49ers and the Ravens will need to rely heavily on their lead back again. The best way to keep the Cardinals' explosive offense off the field and to keep the ball out of harm's way is to control the clock with the running game. Forsett, who is fourth in the league with 457 rushing yards, has proven capable. The Ravens rank 11th in the league with an average of 4.2 yards per carry.
CARDINALS: Arizona leads the NFL in total points (203) and total touchdowns (25) because it has maintained offensive balance. They average 121.5 rushing yards per game, and have seven rushing scores. Veteran Chris Johnson heads an explosive three-man rushing attack that includes Andre Ellington and rookie David Johnson, who has five touchdowns (three rushing). The Cardinals averaged a league-worst 3.96 yards per carry last year but they rank third in the NFL with an average of 4.7 yards per attempt this year. (EDGE: CARDINALS)
RAVENS: This unit and special teams continue to be the Ravens' chief strengths. The good news is the Ravens rank ninth in the NFL against the run, allowing only 94.5 rushing yards per game, and they're tied for fourth in the league in surrendering 3.6 yards per carry. The bad news is that the Ravens' opponents are abandoning the run game earlier and earlier. That's both a show of respect for Brandon Williams and company, and a testament to how vulnerable the Ravens pass defense is.
CARDINALS: The Cardinals have been pretty average against the run, allowing 104.5 yards per game on the ground. That ranks 17th in the NFL. Two weeks ago, St. Louis Rams rookie Todd Gurley gouged them for 146 yards on just 19 carries. However, the Cardinals have been stingy in the red zone, giving up just two rushing touchdowns. Veteran defensive tackle Calais Campbell is a force inside. Rookie Rodney Gunter has filled in well for big defensive tackle Corey Peters. (EDGE: RAVENS)
RAVENS: At this point, it's all been said so many times. The Ravens can't get a consistent pass rush without blitzing, they struggle mightily to cover and tackle, and they allow too many big plays. What has been just as problematic is they haven't forced a turnover in three games. The Ravens have three interceptions all season, fewer than all but three teams. Lardarius Webb's return should help. Brynden Trawick is in line for his first career start at safety.
CARDINALS: Arizona's secondary is loaded with playmakers, from star cornerback Patrick Peterson to safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon. The Cardinals have a league-high 11 interceptions and 10 of them are from defensive backs. Dating back to 2013, the Cardinals have returned 10 interceptions for touchdowns. Peterson will probably spend a significant part of the game shadowing Steve Smith Sr., forcing another Ravens receiver to beat them. Arizona has nine sacks this season. (EDGE: CARDINALS)
RAVENS: The Ravens relied on Justin Tucker's right leg to get their only victory, in Pittsburgh. However, Tucker has missed a potentially-impactful field-goal attempt in the Ravens' past three losses. Tucker, the league-leader in touchback percentage, has nullified opposing return games. Sam Koch is having another strong year and ranks second in the NFL behind Indianapolis' Pat McAfee with a 45.2-yard net punting average. Returner Jeremy Ross continues to look dangerous with the ball in his hands.
CARDINALS: Kicker Chandler Catanzaro has picked up where he left off after a strong rookie season, making nine of his 10 field-goal attempts. Thanks to rookie David Johnson, the Cardinals lead the league with a 31.2 yard average on kick returns. Peterson, the team's punt returner, scored on an 82-yard punt return the last time these two teams met. The Cardinals have blocked 19 field-goal attempts since 2008, nine more than any other team. (EDGE: EVEN)
RAVENS: The Ravens say confidence is not an issue. They say that they are still ultra motivated. They've taken accountability for mistakes and seemingly stayed together as a team. What they haven't done is play well enough for any of that to matter. They haven't been able to break the trend of slow starts and mistake-prone finishes. The Ravens have beaten the Cardinals in four consecutive matchups, although they had a similar streak against the 49ers and that mattered little last week.
CARDINALS: The Cardinals have a league-best, plus-88 point differential, and they've been particularly dominant in their two home wins, outscoring the opposition, 78-26. Arizona has held opponents to 20 points or fewer in 13 of its 19 home games under coach Bruce Arians, and the Cardinals are 13-0 in those games. Not only do the Cardinals have the league's fifth-ranked offense and sixth-ranked defense, they are one of the least penalized teams in the league. (EDGE: CARDINALS)
Over the years, the Ravens have been at their best in situations like this, when they go into a hostile environment and nobody expects them to come out with a victory. However, it's been an exercise in futility this year to predict what the current Ravens will do based on what has happened in the recent past. This is a far different Ravens team, one that has an absence of playmakers, makes far too many mistakes and can't finish games. It should surprise no one if the Ravens keep the game close. Ultimately though, they won't get enough stops or enough big plays to keep up. CARDINALS, 31-20