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Preston: Ravens secondary has become a primary issue heading into playoffs

As the euphoria from the Ravens capturing the AFC North title subsides, the concerns about the secondary increase.

In the wake of Sunday’s 26-24 win against the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens have to address a secondary that allowed rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield to complete 23 of 42 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns.

The Ravens intercepted three Mayfield passes, but the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft completed seven passes of 20 yards or longer, including three of 40 yards or more.

Before Sunday’s game, the secondary had been the strength of the team’s top-ranked defense but they needed a GPS system to find the Browns receivers. They weren’t just open but in another ZIP code.

“We’re going to fix that. That’s easy, that’s easy to fix,” said Ravens nickel cornerback Tavon Young.

Maybe it is. But the problem is that the Los Angeles Chargers are coming to town Sunday for a wild card playoff game and the Chargers have the No. 10-ranked passing offense in the NFL led by quarterback Philip Rivers.

Los Angeles is averaging 255.6 yards passing per game. In the Ravens 22-10 win on Dec. 22, the Ravens held the Chargers to 147 yards of passing, slowing receivers Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams.

The Chargers weren’t happy after that game and they’ll be an angry bunch Sunday. The Ravens need to get well and solidify their secondary quickly.

Allen has 97 catches for 1,196 yards. Tyrell Williams has 41 catches for 653 yards, and Mike Williams has 43 for 664 yards.

“Confident, confident, confident,” said Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey. “The secondary didn’t play our best ball, especially me. We saw some looks we haven’t seen before, so there are some things we can fix. We can build off our mistakes and make them better for the next game.”

The Browns went after Humphrey, which was strange because he was supposed to be the team’s top cornerback, ahead of veteran Jimmy Smith. But Browns receivers left Humphrey trailing several times and there were other occasions where they wrestled passes away from him.

Humphrey had a bull’s-eye on his back.

“They definitely were coming at me. My man was open a lot. Baker was finding my man,” said Humphrey. “I don’t really take that as a personal challenge. I just try to do my job. Sometimes you just have bad games. Every time you line back up, no matter how bad you’ve done, you have to treat every play as its own. Try to play your game, that’s the key.”

Humphrey will bounce back. He is big, physical and can run with any receiver. His major problem is that sometimes he loses concentration and those lapses cost him. If he wants to take his game to the next level, he has to focus full time.

But it wasn’t just Humphrey. There were times where cornerbacks expected help over top from the safeties and didn’t get it. There were times when safeties were caught out of position.

If that happens against Los Angeles, it will be a long day for the Ravens.

They have a couple of things going for them in the rematch Sunday. The last time the two teams played, the Ravens physically dominated the Chargers. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon and Za’Darius Smith either consistently pressured Rivers enough to make him move in the pocket or sacked him.

Ravens defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce pounded the Chargers guards inside and didn’t allow Rivers to step up in the pocket. Mayfield moved well against the Ravens and got outside several times to throw and make big plays.

Rivers can’t do that.

But Chargers receivers certainly won’t allow the Ravens to bully them around like last time. The Ravens challenged and pressed them physically at the line of scrimmage. Because of the jams, they didn’t allow the Chargers to complete those quick passes that Rivers likes to throw.

But that was almost two weeks ago. The Ravens have played that way before but that didn’t happen Sunday against the Browns, who have a less talented receiver corps than the Chargers.

There was a drop-off.

Now the Ravens have to get it back.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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