Putting Recent Ravens’ Secondary Woes In Context

Ravens DB Kyle Hamilton

Getty Ravens DB Kyle Hamilton watches Tryeek Hill score a touchdown in a regular season game on September 18, 2022.

Dating back to the start of the 2021 season, the Baltimore Ravens‘ defensive backfield has been on the wrong side of history. Miscommunication led to several blown coverages in Baltimore’s Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins, a game in which they led by 21 points entering the final quarter but allowed one touchdown drive after another in the most epic collapse in over a decade.

Tua Tagovailoa threw for a whopping six touchdowns, four of which came in the fourth quarter alone. It marked the fifth 400-plus-yard passing game allowed by the Ravens’ defense since Week 1 of last season when they allowed Derek Carr to throw for 435 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 33-27 overtime loss on September 13, 2021. No other team in the league has allowed more than one over that span, according to NFL writer Scott Kacsmar.

Context for Collapses & Poor Performances

As much of an eyesore as those stats are, they lack the appropriate context that paints the full picture boxscores don’t and can’t for the casual fan or media pundit looking for a surface-level hot take for their lead block or headline. While the Ravens themselves will never make excuses for their shortcomings and take full responsibility for their failures to finish or consistently execute, their secondary hasn’t been anywhere near full strength in nearly two years since 2020.

They lost three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters just before last season started to a torn ACL and he missed the entire year. Many of his teammates say he’s the heart and soul of the secondary and without him, they didn’t have the same swagger as they did with him. By Week 14, they had lost two-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey to a torn bicep injury which knocked him out for the remainder of the year as well.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is the proud owner of two the 400-plus-yard passing games against the Ravens after doing it twice last year. The first time was when Humphrey was still in the starting lineup but was one of the worst games of his career and also a poor overall day of tackling in the open field by the defense as a whole. In the infamous second meeting of the two teams that season, Humphrey was already on injured reserve and top reserve turned starter, Anthony Averett suffered a rib injury that cost him the final two games of the season while the team was still clinging on to playoff contention.

The Ravens entered their game with the Dolphins and their dynamic wide receiver tandem of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle shorthanded and banged 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 torn ACL in the season opener, second-year pro Brandon Stephens was inactive with a quad injury, Humphrey was out of the game with a lingering groin for Miami’s final touchdown drive as they completed their comeback, and the game marked the first for Peters since returning from injury so being tasked with limiting the likes of Hill and Waddle was easier said than done.

Reasons for Hope & Optimism

The Ravens were forced to rely on a trio of rookies to close out the game in what was truly a trial by fire on a very humid day in Baltimore. Unfortunately, the youth and inexperience of fourth-round cornerbacks Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion “Pepe” Williams and first-round safety Kyle Hamilton led to more breakdowns and big plays than the team could ultimately afford.

“Certain guys have got to grow up fast. They’re young guys, they’re rookies, they’re playing for the first time,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a press conference on September 19, 2022. “They know that I’m sure they took responsibility for it, the coaches take responsibility for it, we’ve all got to take responsibility for it. Those are things that should never happen. They’re below the line. I did not expect those things to happen in this game. But, I also understand you’ve got some young guys back there. Things are moving fast and the game’s on the line. That can happen.”

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

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

There is a good chance that the Ravens and Dolphins will be jockeying for seeding and playoff spots down the stretch and could even meet again in the playoffs if one of them wins their respective division and the other makes it in as a wildcard. In the event of either possibility, best believe that these rookies and the Ravens as a whole won’t make the same mistakes again.

Thankfully, neither Humphrey nor Stephens’ injuries are long-term and won’t cause them to miss extended time if any going forward. Peters is still getting his legs under him and will only get better and more back feeling like his old play-making self as the season goes on. Barring any more injuries at the position (knock on wood), by the time the second-half stretch comes, the Ravens’ secondary should be healthier and in better sync, and their younger players will have more experience under their belts.

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