1. Two-tight end sets
It would behoove offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to make use of his talented, second-year tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Both of these players were pegged to be a big part of a reformed passing attack. Instead, the two pass catchers have been nothing short of disappointing.
Neither player has been used correctly in the offense. For example, Dickson is a space player who can fight for jump balls and outrun defensive backs downfield. Much of the routes he runs are over the middle, in traffic.
Pitta is more of an H-back who is a polished route runner and can make catches in tight spaces. He’s been used some as a sideline receiver and on screens when he’d be better on crossers and other inside routes.
Against an Arizona defense that lacks foot speed at the linebacker position, Pitta and Dickson should see plenty of action from a plethora of two-tight formations. Considering that other offenses like the Patriots, Saints and Texans dictate mismatches with their receiving tight ends, it’s a mystery why Cameron can’t create the same type of attack.
2. Play-action and pump fakes
A big reason that the Cardinals have struggled to cover the pass is that their defensive backs are susceptible to peeking in the backfield. On a 95-yard jaunt, Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace broke wide open when cornerback Richard Marshall kept his eyes in the backfield for too long. It’s hard enough staying with Wallace when you have your eyes on him, let alone when you’re a second late.
Overall, the Arizona defensive backs have been over-aggressive and they can be moved out of position. Along with using some play-action, especially from a heavy run formation, quarterback Joe Flacco should incorporate some pump fakes to get the defensive backs moving the wrong way. In particular, rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson should be tested often, as he has given up big plays and lost his technique in man coverage situations.
3. Pass on first down; run on passing downs
One thing is clear: the Ravens are not moving the ball on first down. This gets back to the Ravens being a run-first team on first down. Against defenses that are dialed in to stop the run on first down, this is not a recipe for sustaining drives. The same scenario will be in play against an Arizona defense that is decent against the run.
As was the case against Jacksonville and on some drives in the Houston game, the Ravens could not generate positive yardage running between the tackles on first down. Consequently, the Ravens see more second and third-and-long situations.
The Ravens must pass the ball early to set up the run late. The passing game should be shorter and quicker, netting between 5-to-7 yards a clip to set up manageable running situations on the subsequent downs.
1. Up the gut blitz
Football can be a game of great irony. Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb had arguably his worst performance against the Ravens, in Baltimore, three years ago. Now he returns as a struggling starting quarterback for the Cardinals, and he’ll face a truly ravenous defense on Sunday.
Kolb has been exposed for his lack of arm strength and poor pocket awareness. And behind an Arizona offensive line that has not held up well in pass protection, the combination hasn’t been pretty.
The defensive game plan should be to bring pressure up the middle of the line. Kolb has a tendency to move laterally to evade a rush and as he moves, he’ll throw the off his back foot. If the front line can flush him out of the pocket, Kolb will have a hard time completing passes.
2. Bracket Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald remains the lone ranger in a receiving corps that lacks a true No.2 option. Defenses make sure to bottle up Fitzgerald, and he rarely faces man-to-man coverage.
He remains one of the best receivers in football because he can defeat double coverage. Fitzgerald is arguably the best leaper in the NFL and he has an uncanny ability to find the ball.
There’s no question that the Ravens will need to keep a safety shaded to his side at all times. It’ll be acceptable if the other receivers for Arizona make plays – but Fitzgerald has to be contained.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Patrick Peterson versus Anquan Boldin: As mentioned before, Peterson may have the spotlight on him, especially with Boldin getting the chance to square off against his former team. This would be an ideal game for Boldin to pick up a struggling passing attack. Although Boldin has lost some of his explosion, he remains a physical route runner who will fight for the ball. Peterson is a smooth and physical cornerback that has the skills to stay with any receiver.