GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Lamar Jackson's excellence was at its apex in last week's dominant win over the Lions. The Baltimore Ravens quarterback threw for 357 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score.
Now the reeling Arizona Cardinals have to try to find a way to stop him.
The Ravens (5-2) have won two straight games heading into Sunday's road matchup with the Cardinals (1-6), who have dropped four in a row.
The 26-year-old Jackson is arguably having his best season since his MVP year in 2019. He has completed a career-high 71% of his passes for 1,610 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He's also run for 363 yards and five scores.
“His skillset makes him extremely hard to defend and he’s playing at a really high level right now," Cardinals first-year coach Jonathan Gannon said. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re on the rules and responsibilities of how we’re trying to defend him in the run and pass game to give ourselves a chance.”
The Cardinals have faded after a somewhat encouraging start to the season. Arizona was expected to be among the worst teams in the league, but played well for much of the first three weeks, losing two tight games before a surprising win over Dallas.
Since then, the Cardinals have regressed, losing their past four games by an average of more than two touchdowns. Gannon has adjusted the playing time for several of his defensive players — particularly in the secondary — in an attempt to identify the players who give Arizona the best chance to win.
Two-time All Pro safety Budda Baker returned last week after missing five games with a hamstring injury, providing some stability. The Cardinals will lean on him when trying to slow Jackson.
“We’re looking for consistency, playmaking and doing the right thing as much as you can,” Gannon said. “We’re not afraid to move some guys around here or there. Some of that can be matchup-driven a little bit at times and some other times during the week a guy might play a little bit better throughout the week and he gets the nod.
"It’s a highly competitive league and we’re a highly competitive team.”
Joshua Dobbs' days as the Cardinals' starting quarterback appear to be numbered.
Dobbs has been filling in for the injured Kyler Murray over the past seven games, but it appears that Murray is on the verge of returning from an ACL injury suffered last December. The two-time Pro Bowl selection and former No. 1 overall pick returned to practice last week.
The 28-year-old Dobbs has had some good moments, particularly during the season's early weeks. He's regressed some, but still ranks 18th in the NFL in quarterback rating. He's completed 62% of his passes with six TD passes and three interceptions. He has also lost four fumbles.
Ravens receiver Zay Flowers has 39 catches for 442 yards, ranking second among NFL rookies in both categories.
“I feel like I can do a lot more and try to either get more yards or try to help (the team) in any way that I can,” Flowers said. “So, it feels like I’m just playing right now, and I’m out there.”
Williams missed the first six games while recovering from an ACL tear suffered in college at Syracuse. He was a third-round pick in the draft.
The Cardinals' secondary has had some rough moments early this year, but the emergence of Williams brings hope things will improve. Baker is back on the field, and fellow safety Jalen Thompson is close to returning from a hamstring injury.
The Ravens are ranked No. 2 in the NFL against the pass after finishing 26th and 32nd the past two years. There’s plenty of credit to go around. The secondary began the season without cornerback Marlon Humphrey, but Brandon Stephens has started every game and safety Geno Stone leads the league with four interceptions.
“Talking with Geno, being one of my better friends on the team, if you look at his goals that he showed me, what he’s doing right now is really nothing new,” Humphrey said. “I think he’s already exceeding his goals, actually, but to lead the league, I don’t think that was on anyone’s bingo card.”
Baltimore also leads the NFL with 29 sacks.
Cardinals receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown will play his first game against the Ravens since his former team dealt him to the Cardinals on draft day last year.
Brown had his best year with the Ravens in 2021, with 1,008 yards receiving and six touchdowns. He had 709 yards receiving and three touchdowns with the Cardinals last season, when he missed four games with injuries.
Brown is Arizona's leading receiver this year with 383 yards and three TDs. His numbers could be even better, but Dobbs has struggled to consistently find him on deep balls.
AP Sports Writer Noah Trister contributed to this report.
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David Brandt, The Associated Press