GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Cardinals need a win to solidify their grip on first place in the NFC West.
The Baltimore Ravens need a win – period.
The Cardinals (4-2) play their only home game over a six-week span when they face the Ravens (1-5) on Monday night.
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Baltimore will play on the road for the fifth time in its first seven games.
”I’d rather have ours than Baltimore’s,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of the schedules. ”They’ve been back and forth three times to the West Coast.”
The Ravens played at Oakland on Sept. 20 (and lost 37-33) and, last week, at San Francisco (and lost 25-20).
Every Arizona win has been a blowout. The Cardinals have lost the two that were close, most recently a 25-13 defeat in Pittsburgh last Sunday.
For the Ravens, they’ve all been close. They have not lost a game by more than six points. Their only win was in overtime, 23-20 at Pittsburgh on Oct. 1.
”When you watch them on film, this is a good football team,” Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer said. ”You can’t look at their record and think anything. … They just lost a weird one to Cleveland at home. They lost a weird one in Oakland. They were coming back last week in San Francisco. With Cincinnati, it was back and forth, back and forth, I think it ended up being a four-point game.”
Arians harped all week on the Cardinals’ tendency to play great most of the time, then have a five-minute lull.
Several defensive players admitted they let up a bit when the Steelers brought in third-string quarterback Landry Jones, who promptly threw two touchdown passes.
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith wasn’t about to comment about the Cardinals’ issues.
”What they’ve goin’ on, I’d love to have their problems,” he said. ”We’re 1-5. You know what I mean?”
Here are some things to look for when Arizona, in its only Monday night game this season, faces the Ravens.
RECEIVING GREATS: Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Baltimore’s Steve Smith have run into each other many times over their long careers. And they both keep climbing the statistical charts. Fitzgerald ranks 14th in receptions (952), one more than Smith. Smith is 12th in yards receiving (13,772) and needs 6 yards to pass Henry Ellard for 11th. Fitzgerald is 19th in yards receiving (12,734) and 11th in touchdowns (95).
Their common denominator, Arians said, ”a great, great passion for the game. I love the way both guys play. They’re the ultimate pros and the ultimate warriors.”
Smith has more receptions and yards receiving against Arizona than he has against any team outside the NFC South.
TEAM EFFORT: The Ravens rank 27th in pass defense and have allowed opponents to convert 48 percent of their third-down tries.
”The pass rush and coverage goes hand in hand,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. ”We have to do a better job pass rushing, myself included, and then when do pass rush, the coverage has to be better. So we have to be on the same page.”
Baltimore has only three interceptions this season. Arizona leads the NFL with 11.
TELL-TALE TURNOVERS: A look at the turnover statistics will tell you whether Arizona won or lost this season.
In their four victories, the Cardinals had 13 takeaways. In their losses to St. Louis and Pittsburgh, they had none.
”We just have to be a little bit more straightforward about trying to cause those turnovers,” said safety Rashad Johnson, who has a team-high three interceptions.
”We have to be more in synch, just going after the ball more, trying to punch it out. First guy in make the tackle, second guy rip it out. Try and get as many guys to the ball as we can. Everything can’t be an interception. We have to make sure we’re trying to cause fumbles, too.”
TIGHT END TROUBLE: Arians has a lot of offensive sets that feature two tight ends, and that equals the number he will have dressed for Sunday’s game.
Starter Darren Fells is out with a shoulder injury. That leaves Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas to handle the load. Gresham should be familiar with the Ravens after all his years with Cincinnati.
LOOKING FOR HELP: The Ravens once relied heavily on their tight ends – most notably Dennis Pitta, who’s been out since September 2014 with a hip injury. Pitta returned to practice Wednesday, but won’t play Monday night.
In his absence, Crockett Gillmore has only 13 catches and rookie Maxx Williams has 12 receptions. Pitta had 61 catches in 2012, his most recent full season. Tight end Ed Dickson had 21 receptions that season.
AP Sports Writer Dave Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.