Shortly after Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale learned that starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey was out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, he should have huddled with all his linebackers and linemen who make up his front seven.
And then he should have delivered a great speech, one filled with more reality than fiery rhetoric.
In short, Martindale should have said: “If we want to get where we want to be, then the guys in this room have to carry us. From here on out, we have to ball out.”
That’s pretty much the story of the season at this point. The Ravens aren’t at a breaking point after Humphrey’s injury, but they are close.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson is having a brain freeze because he can’t figure out blitzes or pressure packages. His receivers seem to be irritated with Jackson’s tunnel vision to tight end Mark Andrews, and the offensive line struggles in pass protection.
Humphrey’s injury only made things worse because the team was already without starting running backs J.K. Dobbins (knee) and Gus Edwards (knee), Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and cornerback Marcus Peters (knee), as well as starting safety DeShon Elliott (biceps).
Humphrey, who signed a five-year, $98.75 million contract last October, wasn’t playing well but is certainly better than anyone listed at No. 2 on the depth chart. Coach John Harbaugh said he will decide on replacement candidates such as Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Chris Westry or Kevon Seymour during practice this week depending on packages and matchups heading into Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens’ secondary has played poorly this season, giving up big plays week after week. They’re allowing 272.4 passing yards per game, which ranks second-to-last in the NFL. But the defense can improve if outside linebackers Tyus Bowser, Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston become better pass rushers and improve on their 14 ½ combined sacks this season. If that happens, that will allow Martindale more freedom to mix coverages.
The Ravens are tied for No. 1 in the league in run defense, allowing 84.3 yards a game. But linemen Brandon Williams, Justin Ellis, Justin Madubuike and Calais Campbell would really help out the secondary if they got more pressure on opposing quarterbacks up the middle.
In a 16-10 win over Cleveland two weeks ago, the Ravens held the Browns to 40 rushing yards and made injured quarterback Baker Mayfield even more one-dimensional. Even though Cleveland enjoyed a bye last week, the Ravens have the potential to once again impose their will against an offensive line they physically whupped, which allowed them to bottle up running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Josh Bynes have improved in recent weeks with Bynes taking over in the middle and Queen moving to the weak side. Chris Board has been adequate in pass defense filling in for Bynes in passing situations.
Not only would a dominant front seven help the defense, but the offense as well. The Ravens are at their best when running the ball. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman put in some neat little running plays including some options and counters last week, and a good running game makes the play-action passing game even more effective. If the Ravens can run, they usually win. If they fall behind and have to pass block, it’s back to the same losing formula of the past three years.
The Ravens have a good blend of personnel in their front seven and this could be the perfect storm. They have youth in Queen, Oweh and Madubuike. They have solid veteran leadership in Campbell, Williams, Houston and fellow outside linebacker Pernell McPhee.
There are no studs in this group, maybe with the exception of Campbell, but if they rally together, they can be good. If they can’t, the Ravens will lose against quarterbacks like the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow and the Los Angeles Rams’ Matthew Stafford.
Of course, the Ravens are just trying to find something to hold onto now that Humphrey is gone. At this point of the season, the good teams are getting stronger, but the Ravens appear to be getting weaker.
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A dominant front seven could give them new life. It’s the only thing they’ve got at this time.