It’s only Week 2, and Baltimore’s secondary depth is already being tested by Jimmy Smith’s knee injury, which will keep him out for “multiple weeks,” per Head Coach John Harbaugh.
Now the Cardinals’ “Air Raid” offense featuring No. 1-overall pick Kyler Murray, future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald and frequent four-wide receiver sets are coming to M&T Bank Stadium.
After that, it’s MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, then all three of the Ravens’ division opponents in what will be a critical stretch for early positioning in the AFC North.
So are the Ravens worried about their ability to fill in ? Nope.
The Ravens have been down the road of having too few cornerbacks, including other times when Smith went down with various injuries, over the past few seasons. But in recent years, they’ve prepared to make sure they wouldn’t get burnt again.
“That’s not a concern of mine – of ours,” Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said.
The Ravens turned to second-year cornerback Anthony Averett in Miami, and he’s expected to be a big part of the solution moving forward..
Averett was a fourth-round pick last year out of Alabama, where he was a two-year starter. He was a late bloomer at the position, as he arrived at the school without a position, just the label of “athlete.”
But after learning in Alabama’s system and during his rookie year in the NFL, Averett said his knowledge of the game is “night and day” different. And now he’s ready to make the most of his elite physical attributes. At 5-foot-11, 178 pounds, Averett ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at the 2018 Combine.
“I feel like I have the speed and size for everybody,” Averett said. “Nobody is going to outrun me.”
“He can fly,” Martindale added. “And he’s just getting more experience. There’s nothing like Sunday for him, going out there and covering receivers. He doesn’t care who he covers, he just covers them.”
During his junior season, Averett and Marlon Humphrey were the two starting cornerbacks on opposite sides of Bama’s defense. When Averett was drafted by the Ravens, the two talked about starting together again – eventually – in the NFL. That could come true as early as this weekend.
“He’s grown a lot,” Humphrey said. “In practice and different things like that, he’s not the most energized guy. But when he gets in the games, you see that turn on. … He can kind of do it all, and that’s what we’re going to need going down the stretch while Jimmy is out.”
Humphrey and Averett locked up opposing high-octane college passing attacks similar to the one they’ll see Sunday from the Cardinals and first-year Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury, who engineered the high-scoring “Air Raid” offense at Texas Tech.
The Cardinals used four wide receivers for much of their fourth-quarter comeback to force a 27-27 tie in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions. While Kingsbury said he doesn’t anticipate spreading the offense out that much again this week, he certainly could.
“The thing of it is with Kliff’s offense, the offensive guys in this league have been stealing plays from him for years from Texas Tech,” Martindale said. “We’re just getting ‘The Full Monty,’ if you will, of the Air Raid offense.”
That means the Ravens will have to rely on more than just Averett, Humphrey and Brandon Carr at cornerback. Baltimore also has Cyrus Jones and Justin Bethel, and beyond that, the Ravens feel they can use their safeties in coverage as well. Baltimore has excellent depth at safety with Anthony Levine Sr., DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark.
“I trust Chuck, Anthony Levine, DeShon,” Martindale said. “DeShon Elliott, he’s going to get more and more playing time. Those guys are playing really well. And it’s just like I’ve told them: I look at all four of those guys, or five if you count Levine, whether you’re counting him as a linebacker or a safety, as starters. That’s how I want them to see themselves as well.”