Monday, October 3, 2022

Putting the recent Ravens’ secondary problems into context

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As of the start of the 2021 season, the Baltimore Ravens defensive backfield has been on the wrong side of history. Misunderstandings led to multiple inflated reports in their Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins, where they led into the last quarter by 21 points but allowed touchdown drive after touchdown drive in the most epic meltdown in over a decade.

Tua Tagovailoa threw for a whopping six touchdowns, four of which came in the fourth quarter alone. It was the fifth 400-yard pass the Ravens’ defense allowed since Week 1 of last season, when they allowed Derek Carr to throw for 435 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime thriller on Sept. 13, 2021. While they’ve admitted five such cases, no other team in the league has admitted more than one in that span.

As much of an eyesore as these stats are, they lack the proper context that paints the full picture, box scores may and may not be for the casual fan or media savvy looking for a hot, surface-level shot for their lead block or headline. While the Ravens themselves will never apologize for their shortcomings and will take full responsibility for their failure to finish or consistently execute the game, their secondary school hasn’t been anywhere near full capacity in nearly two years since 2020.

They lost three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to an ACL just before the start of last season and he missed the entire year. Many of his teammates say he is the heart and soul of the secondary school and without him they wouldn’t have the same pride as with him. By week 14, they had lost two-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey to a bicep injury that also knocked him out for the rest of the year.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is the proud owner of two of the 400-yard passing plays against the Ravens, having done so twice in the past year. The first time was when Humphrey was still in the starting lineup, but it was one of the worst games of his career and also an overall bad day, attacking the defense in the open field. In the two teams’ infamous second meeting of the season, Humphrey was already on injured reserve and became the top reserve starter. Anthony Averett suffered a rib injury that cost him the final two games of the season while the team was still clinging to the playoffs.

The Ravens entered their game with the Dolphins and their dynamic wide receiver tandem of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle outnumbered and batted and ultimately paid for it in the end. They had already lost top backup and former two-time Pro Bowler Kyle Fuller for the year to a cruciate ligament rupture in the season opener, sophomore Brandon Stephens was inactive with a quadriceps injury, Humphrey was out of the game with a linger for the entire fourth quarter as Miami made his comeback and the game was the first for Peters since returning from injury so being tasked with the restriction from Hill and Waddle was easier said than done.

The Ravens were forced to rely on a trio of freshmen to finish the game in a real test by fire on a very muggy day in Baltimore. Unfortunately, the youth and inexperience of fourth-round cornerbacks Jalyn Armor-Davis and Damarion ‘Pepe’ Williams and first-round safety Kyle Hamilton resulted in more glitches and big plays than the team could ultimately afford.

“Certain boys have to grow up fast. They’re youngsters, they’re rookies, they’re playing for the first time,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a Sept. 19, 2022 news conference. “They know they certainly took responsibility for that. the coaches take responsibility, we all have to take responsibility. These are things that should never happen. You are the bottom line. I didn’t expect these things to happen in this game. But I also understand that you have some young guys back there. Things are moving fast and the game is at stake. It can happen.”

While it was a historically painful learning experience for their first-year defenders, it was nonetheless a valuable learning experience and will serve only as a reminder for them of what could happen if they fail to communicate and execute in the future.

“We like these guys, we trust them, they’re going to learn from those mistakes,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way.”

There’s a good chance the Ravens and Dolphins could compete for seeding and playoff spots, and even meet again in the playoffs if one of them wins their respective divisions and the other makes it as a wildcard. In either case, you best believe that these newcomers, and the Ravens as a whole, will not make the same mistakes again.

Thankfully, neither Humphrey nor Stephens’ injuries are long-term and won’t cause them to miss any significant amount of time, if at all. Peters is still getting his legs under himself and will only feel better and more like his old playmaker self as the season progresses. Barring more positional injuries (knock on wood), the Ravens’ high school should be healthier and more in sync going into the second half, and their younger players will have more experience under their belts.

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