As Ravens Loom, Cardinals Must Pick Up Where They Left Off

TE Maxx Williams runs after the catch in overtime against the Lions.
TE Maxx Williams runs after the catch in overtime against the Lions.

BALTIMORE – Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray weren’t the only ones who ushered in a new era of Cardinals football last Sunday.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were there, too.

The Cardinals’ offense was dormant for three quarters against the Lions but exploded for 21 points in the fourth and overtime to salvage a 27-27 tie.

Kingsbury was hard on himself postgame for being “over-creative” and looks to settle into a playcalling groove against the Ravens. He should be aided by continuity after a preseason of secrecy resulted in a disjointed first half against Detroit.

“The biggest thing, after looking back on it, was the operation of us as an offense in a game environment,” Kingsbury said. “We got a feel for it in the second half and got better when the game went on. That was encouraging. I think more than anything it was all of us together operating on the same page, and we need to carry over that momentum we had in the fourth quarter.”

If the Cardinals can move the ball on Sunday, it will be impressive, because Baltimore was the second-best defense in the NFL last year and held the Dolphins to 200 total yards and 12 first downs in a 59-10 whipping last week.

The chess match should be intriguing as the Baltimore coaching staff now has a game’s worth of NFL tape to study from Kingsbury’s Air Raid-centric scheme.

“The thing of it is with Kliff’s offense, the offensive (coaches) in this league have been stealing plays from him for years from Texas Tech,” Baltimore defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “We’re just getting the full monty.”

Kingsbury may have unwittingly helped proliferate the spread offense at the NFL level while he was still coaching in college, but isn’t worried about intellectual property rights.

“Imitation is the finest form of flattery, right?” Kingsbury said. “We all take from each other. The only kick I get out of it is watching players I’ve worked with have success. But plays, everybody shares plays, everybody uses each other’s concepts. That’s, to me, one of the more fun challenges – how you can take someone else’s brilliant football concept and fit it in your offense.”

While Baltimore must deal with Kingsbury and the fleet-footed Murray, the Ravens will roll out a similar matchup problem at quarterback. Lamar Jackson ran the ball at historic rates as a rookie in 2018, but dominated Miami through the air in Week 1, completing 17-of-20 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns.

Jackson first entered Kingsbury’s radar when he threw for 227 yards, ran for 226 and accounted for four touchdowns in a bowl game win over Texas A&M in 2015.

“This guy was a true freshman, and I was like ‘This is an absolute freak,’” Kingsbury said. “I actually called my agent and was like ‘I got your next guy.’ To see what he’s done and to be able to translate it to this level and still play that style of play and still be the best player on the field every time he steps on it, to me just says a lot about his competitive spirit and how he attacks the game.

“People all offseason said he couldn’t throw and couldn’t do this and then he comes out and has a perfect passer rating Week 1.”

While the young quarterbacks will be under the spotlight, a longtime veteran will also command attention. Cardinals outside linebacker Terrell Suggs returns to face a Ravens team that he starred for the past 16 seasons.

He checked the schedule when it came out, first realizing the game was in Baltimore and then noting that it would be the Ravens’ home opener.

“The NFL, they really are clever,” Suggs said.

Suggs seems likely to get a warm reception from the fans and his former teammates, but that will be far from his mind once he begins battling against the familiar purple jerseys.

“We’re all aware of the narrative, but there is a game that has to be played,” Suggs said. “I’m very competitive. I don’t like to lose. … For three hours on Sunday, that is my opponent.”

Images of past matchups against this week's opponent, the Baltimore Ravens

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