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How the Ravens Secondary Plans to Bounce Back From Adversity

Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams (32) intercepts a pass intended for Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Baltimore.
Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams (32) intercepts a pass intended for Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Baltimore.

Marcus Williams can speak with authority to the Ravens' secondary about overcoming adversity, especially rookies.

As a rookie with the Saints in 2017, Williams missed a tackle in a playoff game that resulted in Stefon Diggs of the Vikings scoring the winning touchdown. The play was dubbed the "Minneapolis Miracle", but for Williams it was a nightmare. He was vilified on social media, with people blaming him for costing the Saints a chance to reach the Super Bowl. Memes of him were everywhere, and some wondered if he would ever bounce back.

However, Williams was too tough and talented to let that experience break him. Five years later, he has become one of the NFL's top safeties and in his first year with Baltimore he leads the league with three interceptions.

Williams' resiliency is proven, and now he wants the Ravens' defense to show that quality. The secondary is under fire, and the Ravens rank last in the NFL in total defense and pass defense after giving up six touchdown passes in their humbling Week 2 loss against the Dolphins.

Early in his career, Williams learned how to tune out the noise, and how he's helping to instill that attitude in rookies such as safety Kyle Hamilton and corners Jalyn Armour-Davis and Pepe Williams.

"I've been in that situation before," Williams said. "I've missed a lot of plays in my career. It's not just being a rookie, it's any of us. Veterans miss plays all the time, so those guys, I just talked to them and said, 'The next play is going to be your best play. Don't worry about them.'

"You have to have a short-term memory as a DB all the time. You're on an island, and a lot of people see that and [point]. It's all of us, a collective unit, and if we all help out, then we don't have to worry about any of those guys missing plays."

Two glaring mistakes in coverage in Week 2 resulted in easy touchdown passes from Tua Tagovailoa to Tyreek Hill, as Tagovailoa became the fifth quarterback in the last 19 games to throw for at least 400 yards against Baltimore.

Watching Hill run free in the secondary for two fourth-quarter touchdowns had to be a galling for first-year Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald, who has preached the importance of communicating throughout training camp and the preseason. It was not what he expected after the Ravens played so solidly Week 1 against the Jets.

"Bottom line, we didn't get the job done," Macdonald said. "Didn't execute, communicate, or play to our standard. Message to the guys, let's look inward, let's take it on the chin. Keep moving forward, we've got a long season, 15 more opportunities make a statement and show who we actually are as a defense."

Williams insists the secondary hasn't lost confidence, and he's helping Hamilton deal with handling mistakes and the scrutiny that comes with being the 14th-overall pick.

"We talk all the time, it's not just because he missed a play," Williams said. "He's a good player, comes out here ready to work every single week. OK, one play he didn't make it? Oh well. Now it's time to come back next week and go out there and ball. We trust him, we see him every day working hard in the film room. I trust all those guys out there. We all trust each other, we lean on each other, that's why we're together, and it's all about the team."

Against the Dolphins, Marlon Humphrey (groin) was sidelined on the game-winning drive, Marcus Peters (knee) was playing his first game in more than a year and Brandon Stephens (quad) was out. However, Stephens returned to practice Wednesday and Humphrey (groin) was back on Thursday, which is a positive for their availability on Sunday. Humphrey's importance as a versatile All-Pro corner who can cover both outside and slot receivers can't be denied.

Regardless of who plays against the Patriots, the secondary needs to eliminate the kind of breakdowns that left receivers uncovered against Miami.

Will the miscues the Ravens made in Week 2 lead to a more conservative defensive game plan against the Patriots? New England has struggled offensively, averaging just 12.0 points per game. Only the Cowboys (10.0) and Colts (11.5) have scored fewer, so if the Ravens don't give aways points, the Patriots may struggle to move the ball well enough to win.

Watching game tape of the Miami loss was difficult for the Ravens, but they felt it was productive.

"Those few plays in particular, we made a mistake, and when things happen like that, you've got to go back to the drawing board and try to figure out what's the root of it, so you can get ahead of it moving forward," Macdonald said.

Plenty of dangerous receivers remain on Baltimore's schedule like Diggs (Bills), Ja'Marr Chase (Bengals), Amari Cooper (Browns), Michael Thomas (Saints), Dionte Johnson (Steelers). If the Ravens don't shore up their pass defense, it will show up, but they believe the issues can be corrected.

The Ravens believe they still have a solid defense and one of the league's best secondaries. But what happened against the Dolphins won't be forgotten, and the Ravens enter Week 3 with plenty to prove.

"Everything is motivation, and we don't forget," Harbaugh said. "It's not like your mind is wiped clear, so we're going to remember, and we're going to be motivated by it."

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