Ravens coach John Harbaugh generally doesn’t like overarching themes or big-picture evaluations, but he has used one this week.
The Ravens appear to have gotten the message, even though the answer won’t come until Sunday when they travel to play the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals (1-6) are in the mix for the No. 1 overall draft pick in April while consistency is the theme for the Ravens (5-2) coming off a 38-6 win against the highly regarded Detroit Lions last weekend.
“I believe we’re going in the right direction right now, if anything,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “We just need to keep going. Like I said, keep being consistent.”
That hasn’t been the case in recent years, and certainly not in 2023. The Ravens beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-24, on Sept. 17 and lost a week later, 22-19, in overtime to the struggling Indianapolis Colts.
They beat up the Cleveland Browns, 28-3, then lost seven days later to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 17-10, in another game they easily should have won but collapsed late.
So, which Ravens team will show up in Arizona?
“That feeling was incredible, but we know the type of league that this is,” tight end Mark Andrews said about Sunday’s lopsided win. “It’s any given Sunday, so every game is different. It’s not going to feel the same as it did last week, but if we go out there and do our job and continue to get better, we’re going to become the team that we need to be.”
At least verbally, the Ravens have gotten the message. When a coach has a strong command of the locker room, the players repeat the same things, complete with the buzz phrases.
They become parrots.
The Ravens aren’t buying into the Cardinals game being a “trap.” That’s media jargon. They know that this is the NFL and if they aren’t prepared, they’ll lose.
“You come out and treat them the way you treat all the other games,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “The thing about a one-win team is they’re hungry for that second win, so they’re going to come out, play hard and we just have to play a little bit harder.”
The Cardinals are likely to be without three of their top offensive players because of injuries to quarterback Kyler Murray, running back James Conner and tight end Zach Ertz. The Cardinals rank 19th in total offense, averaging 319.9 yards, while the pass offense ranks 28th, averaging 180.9.
Their 28th-ranked defense allows 368.3 yards per game. They also rank 25th against the rush and 23rd against the pass. Arizona is so unorganized and concerned about money that they don’t even regularly play their best outside linebacker, Victor Dimukeje (Boys’ Latin), who is tied for second on the team with 3 1/2 sacks.
So, to help get his message across, there is the standard Harbaugh buildup of a team that’s really a mess.
“I see a really tough team,” Harbaugh said of the Cardinals. “They have a lot of great players, and they’re building in their new offensive and defensive systems. They play super hard — both sides of the ball are very physical. It’s a young team. You have guys like [safety] Budda Baker over there, that’s one of the best players in the National Football League. They’re impressive with what they try to get done. They’ve been in a lot of close games.
“They’ve been in games in the fourth quarter, they were one-score-or-less games where they had the lead and then didn’t finish, so I’m sure that’s what they’re talking about — play hard, get the game in the fourth quarter and find a way to finish the game.”
It’s two teams on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Ravens defense, ranked No. 2 in the league, has proved they can succeed against any offense in the NFL.
Offensively, the Ravens have to prove that last week’s total of 503 yards wasn’t an aberration, but the sign of a unit getting better. Arizona has had a week to analyze coordinator Todd Monken’s offense. The Cardinals know the Ravens are built more around college concepts than those in the NFL. Baltimore will play with more patience than it did against Detroit.
Regardless, the Ravens need to get better. It all starts with consistency. Last week, they showed they could do it from quarter to quarter. Now they have to prove it from game to game.
“We played well against Detroit and we’d like to continue that pace and build,” center Tyler Linderbaum said. “Arizona is a good team that plays a lot of multiple fronts, they give you a lot of different looks, but we have to be prepared to play. It’s like that every week in this league.”