Late Sunday afternoon, just as the Ravens were wrapping up one of the best wins of the NFL season, a 38-6 destruction of the Detroit Lions, the Cardinals’ game against the Seahawks was kicking off. Arizona had come to Seattle with one win. It would leave with one win, too.

Update: Ravens defeat Cardinals 31-24, but struggle when they shouldn't

“The thing about a one-win team,” Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson said Wednesday, “they’re hungry for that second win.”

The 1-6 Cardinals have been hungry for a while now. After a 20-10 loss Sunday, Arizona has dropped four straight games, all by double digits. Next up is a 5-2 Ravens team emerging as an AFC contender and looking to avoid another letdown. Here’s what to watch in their Week 8 matchup at State Farm Stadium.

1. After the Ravens routed the Lions on Sunday, Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner said Jackson was playing “great.” He also called the team’s passing offense “not smooth” and “clunky” at times, pointing to issues with timing and spacing.

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Offensive coordinator Todd Monken did not necessarily disagree.

“There were some elite things that we did, and there were some things, for sure, we have to clean up, and not just counting on that 8 [Jackson] is going to run around and make a play, right?” Monken said Thursday. “He is going to do that. That is what he does, but that’s not my job. Our job is to be elite and getting guys in the right spots, calling it, being aggressive, getting the guys in the right spots and letting our talent shine.”

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The offense worked even when it was off schedule. On throws attempted at least three seconds after the snap Sunday, Jackson was 6-for-8 for 125 yards and a touchdown, according to TruMedia. Over the first six weeks, the Lions had held quarterbacks to just 52.6% accuracy and 85.7 passing yards per game on longer-developing pass plays.

On Sunday, the Ravens’ margin for error should be greater. The Cardinals’ pass defense is a step or two below Detroit’s. Arizona is 31st in the NFL in DVOA, according to FTN, despite ranking 23rd in passing yards allowed (237.6 per game). But the Ravens’ spacing could again be tested.

The Cardinals rank last in the NFL in blitz rate, sending five or more pass rushers after the quarterback on just 10.4% of drop-backs, according to TruMedia. A passive approach would give Jackson more time to go through his reads. It’d also clog his throwing windows. The last thing the Ravens want is to help Arizona with that.

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“You’re always looking for perfection,” Monken said. “You’re looking to be elite at whatever you do.”

2. The Ravens did not have many offensive missteps in the first half Sunday, but their biggest mistake against Detroit was also their most predictable: They fumbled. Jackson and running back Justice Hill botched an exchange at the mesh point late in the second quarter, leading to a turnover that ended a potential scoring drive.

The Ravens lead the NFL with 12 fumbles and are tied for second in fumbles lost (seven). Hill has been involved, or at least nearby, in four of them. “It’s been a different problem with each one,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday, “and it is a thing they need to work on.”

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In Week 1, Hill was close to Jackson on a quick-hitting shotgun pass that slipped out of his hand. In Week 4, Hill and Jackson messed up an under-center handoff. In Week 5, Hill had the ball punched out in the open field after a catch-and-run. On Sunday, the latest fumble. Another turnover could loom large against Arizona.

“We have to get it fixed,” Monken said. “That one [fumble in Sunday’s game] is different than the one in Cleveland, which was a miscommunication in terms of the play, but obviously, it doesn’t matter who the back is. When you have some QB-driven runs with Lamar’s ability to pull it and get it on the perimeter, you have to be elite at that part of the game.”

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3. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald acknowledged Thursday that, with Kyler Murray participating fully in practice this week, the Ravens “have to be ready” for the Cardinals’ franchise quarterback. But with Murray less than a year removed from his torn ACL, and a playoff appearance unlikely for Arizona, Joshua Dobbs is expected to make his eighth straight start Sunday.

As a passer, he is not especially accomplished. Dobbs’ passing success rate ranks 25th in the NFL among 32 qualifying quarterbacks, according to TruMedia. But he poses a threat as a runner. Dobbs is fourth in the league in rushing yards at the position (232), with nearly as much production on designed runs (114 yards) as on scrambles (121 yards).

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For a long as the Ravens have had Jackson, they’ve almost never had to worry about stopping an opponent’s quarterback-driven run game. Since 2019, only three quarterbacks have finished a game with more than 20 yards on designed carries, according to TruMedia. Even last year, when Buffalo Bills star Josh Allen finished with 11 carries for 70 yards in a 23-20 win in Baltimore, he did most of his damage on scrambles.

Practice against Jackson long enough, and the headaches that other athletic quarterbacks cause start to seem more manageable.

“I think when you’re practicing the things throughout [training] camp, he gives you a realistic look of, ‘If you could make the play or not, you stay away from Lamar.’ Sometimes there’s some plays where you’re like, ‘We would’ve tackled him,’ and you probably wouldn’t have, but you can get on to the next play,” Macdonald said. “I wouldn’t overdo it much, but obviously having an elite quarterback like that that you’re seeing every day — really, in any scheme — iron sharpens iron in that manner.”

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4. In August 2022, four months after the Ravens dealt Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to Arizona, the wide receiver said his desire to leave came down to “happiness.” He’d led the Ravens in total targets over the 2020 and 2021 seasons, but Brown told the Cardinals’ team website: “I just felt like sometimes they really didn’t need me. Regardless if I was there or not, they were going to win games.”

Brown, a first-round pick in 2019, wasn’t wrong. The Ravens went 10-7 and earned a playoff spot last season. They’ll likely enter November atop the AFC North this year. The Cardinals, meanwhile, went 4-13 in 2022, losing their final seven games, and they’re among the favorites to earn the top pick in the 2024 draft.

What also hasn’t changed is Brown’s level of production. While he’s earned a career-high 27% of Arizona’s targets this season — up from the 25.5% and 24.7% shares he got in 2020 and 2021, respectively — his efficiency has plateaued.

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In the 11 games Murray started last year, Brown averaged 1.79 yards per route run, which would’ve ranked among the top 30 rates for a wideout in 2022. But he finished the season with 709 yards and just 1.44 yards per route run, according to Pro Football Focus. This year, he’s averaging 1.59 yards per route run on his 32 catches for 383 yards.

In Baltimore, those would’ve qualified as disappointing marks for Brown. Despite recurring problems with drops, he had 769 yards in 2020 (1.72 yards per route run) and 1,008 yards in 2021 (1.61 yards).

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“That’s his decision,” Jackson said Thursday of Brown’s request for a trade. “He has to feed his family at the end of the day, and if he believes it’s the right decision for him, that’s on him. It’s not on me. It’s not my decision to make. He would’ve still been here if it was up to me.”

5. Ravens right guard Kevin Zeitler has lost more games than he’s won over his 12-season NFL career. But he’s won a lot, 82 games in all, with regular-season victories against 31 teams, including the Ravens.

On Sunday, in his 174th career start, Zeitler could make it a clean sweep. With a win over the Cardinals, against whom he is 0-3 all time, Zeitler will have beaten every team at least once.

According to NFL Research, he’d be the 17th player and third offensive lineman since 1991 to reach such a mark, joining an exclusive fraternity with members including former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin and legendary quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

jonas.shaffer@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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