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Cardinals reminiscent of 2012 Ravens

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Andre Ellington has helped the Arizona Cardinals overcome the loss of Carson Palmer and maintain the best record in the NFL this season.One of the teams in Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Arizona Cardinals showdown is following a tried-and-true Super Bowl formula.

A productive running back and a quarterback who isn’t afraid to throw deep have complemented an excellent pass defense, just like in a recent Super Bowl season. No, not the Seahawks again. It's the Cardinals who look almost identical to a recent Super Bowl champion -- the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.

RB Per-Game Averages

On the ground

Start with the running back. Andre Ellington has accounted for 28.5 percent of his team’s yards from scrimmage this season, third most in the league.

Ellington’s versatility is reminiscent of Ray Rice during Baltimore’s Super Bowl season. Rice also was responsible for over one quarter of the Ravens' yards from scrimmage, and (like Ellington) was equally capable of making an impact as a receiver.

In the air

With Ellington as the focal point of the offense, the Cardinals haven’t been afraid to throw down the field, regardless of the quarterback.

Sixteen percent of Arizona’s pass attempts have been thrown at least 20 yards downfield, fourth highest in the league and the same percentage as the 2012 Ravens (second highest in the league).

Passing 20+ Yds Downfield

Carson Palmer’s injury has left Drew Stanton as Arizona’s signal-caller for the rest of the season.

But Stanton has been impressive throwing downfield so far this season. He’s completed 10 of 25 downfield attempts (40 percent) for 325 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions despite facing the Lions (second in QBR allowed), 49ers (sixth) and Broncos (14th).

Those numbers look similar to what Joe Flacco did in Baltimore’s postseason run. Flacco was 14-of-29 (48.3 percent) for 504 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions during the Ravens’ four-game playoff stretch.

On defense

If Stanton stays hot and the Cardinals put up points, Arizona’s elite pass defense can hold up against teams throwing to catch up. The Cardinals have allowed a 45.4 QBR this season, fourth best in the league and right on par with the 2012 Ravens.

No team in the league has a better QBR allowed when targeting wide receivers than the Cardinals (55.8), the only team below 60.

Pass Defense

The Cardinals’ pass rush diverges from how Baltimore pressured opposing quarterbacks.

Arizona has sent extra rushers on 42.2 percent of dropbacks this season, second most in the league. The Ravens blitzed on only 28.7 percent of opponents’ dropbacks.

Though they went about it in different ways, the result was largely the same. Quarterbacks haven’t been comfortable against the Cardinals, who pressure (sack, under duress or hit while throwing) on the 12th-highest percentage in the league (26.8 percent).

Baltimore’s 2012 rank in pressure percentage? Eleventh.

Neither defense had problems stopping the run. The Cardinals have allowed 3.5 yards per rush this season, fifth best in the league. The 2012 Ravens also allowed fewer than 4.0 yards per rush (3.99).

And special teams, too!

The similarities don’t stop at offense and defense. Even the Cardinals' special-teams unit resembles the 2012 Ravens, a group that played a critical role in the 34-31 Super Bowl victory, when Jacoby Jones took the second-half kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown to go up 28-6.

The Ravens’ special teams contributed 1.75 expected points per game, fourth best in the league. The Cardinals’ special teams have contributed 1.71 points per game, seventh in the league.