The Baltimore Ravens are now in sole possession of first place in the AFC North division after eking out a decisive 19-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5 on Sunday Night Football. Unfortunately, like their other three wins to start the season, it came at a cost in the form of a key veteran player going down with an injury.
This time it was starting free safety Marcus Williams who was their prized free-agent acquisition this offseason that they signed to a five-year contract worth $70 million in March. He suffered a wrist injury that caused him to be ruled out and miss the second half of the game.
After the game in his press conference on October 9, 2022, head coach John Harbaugh said that he suffered a dislocated wrist and is going to miss “a significant amount of time”. The secondary was able to close out the game but this marks yet another tough blow to a secondary that already lost two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller for the year to a torn ACL.
Williams had played every defensive snap for the Ravens coming into this game, led the team in both total and assisted tackles as well as pass deflections, and his team-leading three interceptions tied for the second most in the league through the first four weeks.
Harbaugh doesn’t have a definitive timetable for his return but said that the team will no more on Monday and throughout the week.
Geno Stone’s Time to Shine
The third-year pro replaced Williams in the second half of the game against the Bengals and played well, finishing with a pair of solo tackles. Much to the dismay of most Ravens’ fans who assume that this unfortunate development opens the door for first-round rookie Kyle Hamilton to seize a starting role, Stone will likely be the next man up to replace the injured veteran in the starting lineup at free safety.
While Hamilton has the athletic ability to be a centerfielder, he is best-suited playing in the box, closer to the line of scrimmage, and as a matchup piece to guard tight ends in man coverage, Stone is better suited for the suddenly vacated position. He is the more natural free safety of the two, has more NFL experience, and is rarely, if ever out of position whereas communication and consistently being in the right spot are traits that Hamilton has struggled with to start his rookie year.
After not seeing much action as a rookie in 2020, the former seventh-rounder out of Iowa has blossomed into a quality depth piece in the Ravens’ secondary over the last two seasons and would likely start on most other teams around the league. He flashed the most in the preseason where he put his impressive range, ball skills, and playmaking ability on full display, and has done so in the regular season as well when given the chance in a limited role.
Ravens Secondary Is Still Trending Upward
While their average margin of victory and defeat over the past two games doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that the team is clicking on all cylinders as a whole, the Ravens’ defense and their much-maligned secondary have been stepping up in a major way as of late. They faced two of the league’s best young quarterbacks and loaded offenses in back-to-back weeks and held both Josh Allen and Joe Burrow to under 220 yards passing and one touchdown to one interception.
The unit held some of the NFL’s most dangerous and productive wide receivers in check as well. In Week 4, two-time Pro Bowler Stefon Diggs was kept to his lowest totals of the season in targets (6), receptions (4), and receiving yards (62) through five games. In Week 5, 2021 Pro Bowler and Offensive Rookie of the Year, Ja’Marr Chase, who torched the Ravens’ secondary for a combined 326 receiving yards and 15 receptions last year was kept just 50 yards on seven catches while his teammate Tee Higgins didn’t have a single reception.
Three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters was the Ravens’ best most aggressive player on defense against the Bengals as he led the charge on that side of the ball. He consistently made his presence felt both as a tackler and in coverage with the way closed on, contested, and sometimes completely blanketed and blew up Cincinnati’s offensive skill players.
The veteran defensive back’s best moments of the game came on a three-play sequence in the third quarter where he forced a clutch turnover on downs by blowing up Bengals’ slot receiver Tyler Boyd on a failed reenactment of the famous ‘Philly Special’ for a 12-yard sack.
Two plays later, he snuffed out a shovel pass play to wide receiver Stanley Morgan for an incompletion on fourth-and-goal from the Ravens’ two-yard line to give the ball back to the offense.
Two-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey has also been playing at a very high level as well to start the season. Even though he didn’t extend his streak of consecutive games with an interception to three straight, the sixth-year veteran has been locked down in coverage.
According to Pro Football Reference’s Advanced Metrics, he has only allowed 56% of the passes thrown to him through four games to be completed with an opposing passer rating of just 48.6. Per Pro Football Focus, he has the lowest passer rating allowed in single coverage this season with just 5.4 and surrendered just one first down against the Bengals.