In week 8 the Arizona Cardinals will face two opponents that they have struggled with in the past; the Baltimore Ravens and playing on the road. Worse still is that the road game is in the Eastern timezone! We know of the struggles that the Cardinals have faced when on the road, notably that they haven't won a road game since the 2010 season opener in St. Louis. So history would say that there is little too look forward to this week, except for more pain. I disagree wholeheartedly. This week is filled with opportunities to see what we've got on the defense. The Ravens showed their weaknesses last week during a disappointing loss on Monday Night Football, and Horton and his defense are eager to prove they can pick up where the Jaguars left off.
1) Changes at OLB. This is the week we've been waiting for, Whis has promised changes to personnel and we should finally see O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho get the start. Horton's defensive scheme requires pressure on the QB, and Schofield and Acho have shown they're raw but filled power and speed. With how Flacco has been playing, we know he's no Rothlisberger, if you touch him he's going to fall and he can't scramble to extend the play. This is the number one match up I'm excited to watch.
2) The progression of the CBs. Last week the Jacksonville Jaguars were able to keep the Ravens from getting a first down until the 3rd quarter. The Ravens had either turned the ball over or went three-and-out on their first nine drives. Where did that come from? Pressure from the D-line, stuffing the run and CB blitzes. If the Cardinals can continue to have a good run defense and some how generate pressure through the OLBs it might be our first glimpse of what Jefferson and PP can do when the QB has to make hasty decisions. This could be the game that we see our defense pick up a turnover or two.
3) The ability to protect the QB. We've all complained about the play from our Offensive Tackles, and we've ranted at the television and in the stands about the need for Whis and Miller to adjust the offense to bring in an extra TE for protection and as a check down. With Heap returning to the line up, King proving his worth in gold, and Housler constantly improving his role in the offense, we could see Whis and Miller finally go to more two TE sets. Especially due to Terrell Suggs lurking in the background of a dominant Raven's defense.
4) Kolbs footwork. This is going to be key to avoiding QB turnovers through fumbles, sacks, and strip sacks. He'll need to focus on his footwork; 3, 5, and 7 step drops, then fire the football out or Suggs will be on him like a cheap suit. The path to QB progression in this system will come through getting the footwork down, and getting rid of the ball at the end of the drop back. We know Kolb has fought too often to keep the play alive and ended up giving up yards. Hopefully he'll focus on his footwork and if the play isn't there he'll throw the ball away.
5) The playcalling. This week Horton will be eager to call blitzes after watching what the Jaguars did to Joe Flacco last week, and with the young guns in there he'll want to show them off quickly. Expect early blitzing and opportunities for the OLBs to focus on the QB only, and not worry about coverage unless it's chasing down Ray Rice in the flat as a check down.
What will you be watching for in this game?