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‘He is a savant’: Ravens CB Marcus Peters returns to Los Angeles, starring on league’s hottest defense

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters talks about playing his former team, the Rams, as well as the Ravens secondary getting to know each other.

Two weeks after he was traded to the Ravens from the Los Angeles Rams, cornerback Marcus Peters offered to treat his fellow defensive backs to dinner.

The group visited Sullivan’s, a steakhouse chain, getting the opportunity to remove themselves from the demands of football and learn more about the team’s newcomer.

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“It’s something that we’ve done in the past. It’s just a good way to get to know everybody,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said of the outing. “We kind of got away from it, and [I’m] happy that [Peters] came back and brought it in and got to know and talk to everyone and really get a feel for who he is.”

Peters, 26, whom the Ravens acquired Oct. 15 for linebacker Kenny Young and a reported 2020 fifth-round draft pick, has smoothly transitioned into a Ravens defense that is among the league’s best since his arrival.

As Peters prepares to play against the Rams (6-4) on “Monday Night Football” for the first time since that October trade, he downplayed any animosity that might linger between him and his former team.

“I don’t have a chip on my shoulder,” Peters said Thursday. “How did it end? I got traded, and I’m liking the situation I’m in right now. And I just keep moving forward. I don’t need any other stuff like that to be — I understand the business of football.”

The circumstance Peters finds himself in is flourishing in a vastly-improved secondary that has remodeled itself since the beginning of the season.

At the time the Ravens traded for Peters, the team was on a two-game winning streak, but the secondary didn’t resemble the unit that entered the season.

Slot cornerback Tavon Young had already been lost for the year because of a neck injury he suffered in training camp. Safety Tony Jefferson suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the team’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith was two weeks away from returning from a knee sprain.

The defense needed Peters to assimilate into its scheme and contribute immediately, even if it meant making his team debut against the Seattle Seahawks just three days after his first practice.

Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale joked about Peters’ availability ahead of his first game, saying he told Peters to lie and say he was up to speed, even if he wasn’t truly comfortable with the defensive terminology.

Peters ingratiated himself as well as he could, playing 90% of the defensive snaps and returning an interception 76 yards for a touchdown in a 30-16 win over the Seahawks.

Coach John Harbaugh said Peters recognized the play Seattle ran — Peters saw the play weeks ago when he faced the Seahawks as a member of the Rams — allowing him to break off his zone coverage and intercept quarterback Russell Wilson’s pass.

Peters’ score sparked a stretch of three games in which the Ravens defense scored five touchdowns, which leads the NFL.

Two games later, Peters again flashed his acuity, stepping in front of a pass thrown by Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Ryan Finley and returning it 89 yards for a touchdown.

“You really don’t know until a guy gets into your locker room and into the defensive meetings, of how football smart they are,” Martindale said. “[Peters] is a savant when it comes to playing corner and routes and everything else.

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“That’s been really refreshing, because as I’ve said many times, knowledge is power in this league. And you can see with his play that he has a lot of knowledge, and that’s what has jumped out the most to me.”

Peters, who in his four-plus seasons in the league has gained the reputation as a gambler prone to giving up big plays, said he doesn’t bait quarterbacks into bad passes, but rather uses his film study and knowledge of opposing offenses to place himself in high-leverage situations.

Since joining the Ravens, Peters is allowing a passer rating of 44.8 when targeted, second-best in the league. His 26 interceptions lead the NFL since the Kansas City Chiefs selected him No. 18 overall in the 2015 draft.

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters (24) claps as Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) lines up agains him during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters (24) claps as Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) lines up agains him during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) (Nick Wass/AP)

“Football is 90% mental and 10% physical. I learned that from the ‘Little Giants,’ ” Peters said with a smirk. “I handle my part. Football is what I do. I get paid to do it, so I have to be tapped in.”

With Peters’ arrival and Smith returning from injury, cornerback Marlon Humphrey has shifted into the nickel position, while Peters and Smith have lined up on the outside.

Possessing four cornerbacks worthy of substantial playing time, Martindale has moved cornerback Brandon Carr to safety, allowing safety Chuck Clark to act as a dime linebacker closer to the line of scrimmage.

“[Peters has] really accommodated himself to playing the style of defense that we want to play in the back end,” Harbaugh said. “The way we play our techniques and our coverages, the way we relate to routes in both man and zone coverages, he’s really smart. He picks it up just like that. He understands the value of working hard at the fundamentals and technique and working together back there, and he’s just been seamless.”

When Peters arrived for his first Ravens practice on Oct. 17, he was relegated to wearing No. 30, with Smith holding the No. 22 that Peters grew accustomed to in Kansas City and Los Angeles. The next time the team held practice, Peters was sporting a more aesthetically-pleasing No. 24.

It was a gift from Carr, who went back to the No. 39 he wore the first nine years of his career.

Peters, an Oakland, California, native, called the number swap an “OG call,” and said he would make sure to donate to Carr’s foundation to show his appreciation for the selfless gesture.

Carr’s act of kindness, like the group’s steakhouse dinner, might seem insignificant, but it has all played a role in welcoming Peters to a secondary that — after weeks of being known for being disconnected — has transformed into one of most cohesive units on the team.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve just been sitting down together as a group and just talking with each other, trying to get to know each other a lot more,” Peters said. “It’s all about getting it to mesh and gel together.

“For us to be able to try to do something special that we want to do, we have to get it to mesh and gel together and communicate, and that’s on and off the field. We have to know how each other [is] feeling, so we can just play fast.”

RAVENS@RAMS

Monday, 8:15 p.m.

TV: ESPN, Ch. 11

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

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