The Arizona Cardinals had won four blowout games previous to their 26-18 Monday night win over the Baltimore Ravens. It was a strange game in many ways. There was a blocked punt, a 62-yard run where everyone but the running back thought the play was over, a missed extra point, a two-point conversion and it looked like it would be a snoozer of a game until late in the fourth quarter when things got interesting.
But the Cardinals, despite some mistakes, were able to pull out the win, improving to 5-2.
What did we learn?
The Cardinals can win close games
It didn't look like it would be a close game, as the Cardinals pulled ahead 26-10 and appeared to put the game away. But a blocked punt led to a Ravens score and the Cardinals had to shut the door at the goalline at the end of the game. "We wanted to make sure there was a damn good traffic jam," said head coach Bruce Arians after the game. "We wanted this type of game and we needed to be in one of these types of games, win it and kind of exorcise that 'can we win it at the end' type of thing."
It seemed like every player mentioned finishing the game and getting back to winning close games like they had been doing for two seasons previous to this year. They made the necessary plays to pull it out, and this has been the type of game the Ravens have been playing -- they lose at the end or rally to get close, only to ultimately lose.
Special teams play matters
The game came down to a few plays on special teams. If Chandler Catanzaro doesn't miss an extra point, the game is completely out of reach. If he hits the 55-yard field goal early in the game, it is out of reach. If Justin Bethel doesn't strip the football away from Jeremy Ross, the Cardinals don't get that deciding touchdown. If the Cardinals don't get a punt blocked, then the Ravens don't get extra life.
Cards win when they force turnovers
In the Cardinals' two losses, they did not force a turnover. They have a bunch in their wins. Such was the case on Monday. They recovered a fumble that Justin Bethel forced and Tony Jefferson ended the Baltimore threat with an interception in the end zone.
The Cardinals win when they are balanced on offense
They ran the ball 28 times. They dropped back to pass 31. They won. When the Cardinals lost their two games, they had 41 rushing attempts and 96 passing plays (passing attempts plus sacks). It isn't coincidental. Now, it isn't just a case of play calling. When they are winning, they can run the ball. However, you will note how much more balanced they are when they do win. So it isn't necessarily they win because they are balanced. They are balanced when they win.
The second half defense improved
While the Ravens passing attack was pretty balanced in the first and second half, the running game was shut down -- partly because of being behind and partly because it was stopped. They allowed 48 rushing yards in the first half on 12 attempts. The Ravens only got seven more yards on four attempts in the second half. The Cardinals are best when opposing offenses get one-dimensional.
Chris Johnson...what can you say?
Johnson had another 122 yards rushing on Monday night on 18 attempts. He had the headiest play of all, which resulted in a 62-yarder. He appeared to get tackled, but was pulled down on top of a player. He got up, didn't hear a whistle and just ran away from everyone.
He now has 567 rushing yards through seven games. He is second in the NFL in rushing. And he was apparently washed up or something. Don't try to understand it. It's football.
But it wasn't that run he was most proud of (probably in part because he was caught from behind). When asked which big run was his favorite, he said "the touchdown."
Why? "I am known for my speed and there I showed some power," he said. Whatever works, CJ.
There was a semblance of a pass rush
The Cardinals sacked Joe Flacco three times. They hit him another four times. There was much more pressure than last week. Dwight Freeney even got his first sack, coming on his famous spin move.
Arizona can disrupt opposing offenses
Aside from the pass rush, the Cardinals had nine tackles for a loss. Tyrann Mathieu and Calais Campbell led the way with three each.
Third down defense -- a tale of two halves
The Ravens were 4/7 on third down in the first half. They converted four of their first five. In the second half, they converted one of six. Were it not for the blocked punt, this game isn't close. The defense made adjustments after struggling early.
Red zone offense better
The Cardinals were 2/4 in the red zone scoring touchdowns. They won a close game. They lost games going 2/9. They won blowouts scoring TDs in 16/17.