Pundits Say Secondary Is 'Major Concern' for Ravens
There was optimism that the Ravens' pass defense had turned a corner after it shut down Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers' explosive offense in Week 6. But those positive feelings were shattered a week later when Joe Burrow threw for 416 yards and three touchdowns in the Cincinnati Bengals' 41-17 rout of the Ravens.
Two pundits believe the Chargers game was the outlier and said there should be major concern about the secondary going forward.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, who does color commentary for the Chargers games on KFI radio, attributed the Chargers' weak offensive performance (six points, 208 total yards, 182 passing yards) to Herbert and company just having a bad game.
"I came into that game and I watched the tape of the Ravens defense, and I saw Derek Carr torch them. And then I watched Carson Wentz torch them," Jeremiah said on the "Rich Eisen Show." "And then coming into that game, I thought Herbert would go off and the Chargers' passing game would go off, and they just had a clunker of a game. And then the next week, Joe Burrow torches them.
"So I think the Ravens have major issues in the secondary, and for some reason the Chargers just weren't able to capitalize on them that day."
NFL Network’s Matt Smith, who does play-by-play on Chargers' radio broadcasts, expressed a similar sentiment.
"To me, that was just an outlier," Smith said. "The Chargers played terrible. They absolutely got whupped by the Ravens, and that's fine. But you look at Derek Carr, 400-plus yards; you look at Joe Burrow, 400-plus yards; the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes put up like 350 and three touchdowns.
"They are giving up giant numbers to opposing quarterbacks because that secondary has got holes all over the place, and to me that is a major concern for this team moving forward."
It's unfair not to give credit to the Ravens for their defensive game plan and execution against the Chargers, but there's no disputing the secondary has uncharacteristically struggled this season.
While losing All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters to a season-ending knee injury a few days before the start of the regular season undoubtedly was a significant blow, the Ravens' secondary still was expected to be one of the team's strengths.
Instead, the Ravens are ranked 29th in the league in passing yards allowed. They were in the top 10 in each of the six previous seasons and no lower than sixth the past three seasons.
"The Ravens have allowed more passing yards through seven games than any team in franchise history," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "They've been victimized by three 400-yard passers. That obviously reflects poorly on the team's current [cornerback] corps although it isn't all on them. The Ravens' linebackers and safeties have had a hand in it as well.
"Still, it's been a struggle for a group that badly misses Marcus Peters' playmaking ability and leadership. Former All-Pro Marlon Humphrey has been the face of those struggles. Pretty much all of the cornerbacks have had some costly missed tackles as well, so it's just not been a coverage issue."
Pass Game Coordinator/Secondary Coach Chris Hewitt said earlier this week that he's confident the secondary will improve.
"We're going to get better over the bye," Hewitt said. "We've had some bumps in the road. We'll keep on working our technique. The message hasn't changed; the sky is not falling or anything like that. We're in a good position, and we're just going to continue to keep on getting better."
Lamar Jackson Ranked No. 1 Quarterback Under 25
Herbert, Burrow and the Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray are all having MVP-worthy seasons, but the top quarterback under 25 is Lamar Jackson, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked the top 15 quarterbacks under 25.
Jackson was No. 1, followed by Herbert, Murray and Burrow.
"Putting together a list like this without the 2019 MVP — who is having another MVP-like year in 2021 — at the top would be negligence," PFF's Seth Galina wrote for ESPN.com. "Jackson displayed a level of elusiveness at the position that the NFL might have never before seen.
"Most importantly, he is a much better passer than he gets credit for. After all, a quarterback doesn't win the MVP award without being a real passing threat. And he has been even better this season, as his accuracy rate within the 10-to-19-yard range went from 42.7% in 2019 to 51.2% in 2021."
Jackson, Specialists Get High Marks in Zrebiec's Midseason Grades
Zrebiec issued his midseason grades (well, it's almost midseason) for the Ravens. The highest marks went to the team's specialists (A) and Jackson (A-).
"To no surprise, the Ravens again have one of the top special teams units in football," Zrebiec wrote. "Their return game, led by [Devin] Duvernay, has been dangerous. They've covered kicks and punts well despite injuries creating changes in special teams personnel. Their success starts with the kicking battery of Justin Tucker, Sam Koch and Nick Moore."
On Jackson, Zrebiec wrote: "You can nitpick if you're so inclined. Lamar Jackson has turned the ball over eight times. He's been sacked 21 times, some of them resulting from holding onto the ball too long. The Ravens' offense has been plagued by slow starts. However, Jackson has given his team a chance to win every week and is the primary reason the injury-weakened Ravens have five victories. ... Jackson has been one of the NFL's best players by just about every measure. If he stays healthy and keeps playing as he has to this point, the Ravens have a good chance to get where they want to be in January."
The inside linebackers received the lowest grade (D).
"The Ravens' inside linebackers have been taken advantage of in coverage. The tackling, specifically with [Patrick] Queen, has been bad at times, too," Zrebiec wrote. "The insertion of Josh Bynes has settled things down, but if the Ravens' defense is going to improve the rest of the way, it will have to start with much steadier play from the inside linebackers."
Colts Running Back Marlon Mack Continues to Be Linked to Ravens
The Nov. 2 trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and one player who continues to be linked to the Ravens is Marlon Mack.
The Ringer’s Ben Solak is the latest to write that the Ravens should trade for the Indianapolis Colts running back. In his scenario, the Ravens would acquire Mack in exchange for a 2023 fifth-round pick.
Mack, who rushed for a career-high 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games in 2019 after running for 908 yards and nine touchdowns in 12 games in 2018, suffered a season-ending torn Achilles last year in Week 1, and second-round pick Jonathan Taylor took over as the starter. This season, Mack has fallen to third on the depth chart behind Taylor and Nyheim Hines.
Mack and the Colts have mutually agreed to seek a trade.
"All parties benefit here. The Ravens can lean on Mack all season, who needs the opportunity to prove to teams that he still has the juice following his injury and recovery — Mack is only 25, after all, and will be a free agent after this season," Solak wrote. "Baltimore's running game should help Mack produce some eye-popping numbers, as the threat of Lamar Jackson always opens up lanes for rushers; and Mack should help the Ravens on the ground, taking some weight off of Lamar's shoulders.
"Meanwhile, the Colts can return a late-round selection that's likely better than the comp pick they'd get from Mack departing in free agency; while the Ravens can potentially recoup a comp pick if Mack improves his stock with a strong performance this year."
The Ravens rank fourth in the league in rushing, but that's largely because of Jackson, who leads the team with 480 yards and is on pace for a third consecutive 1,000-yard season. Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, Ty'Son Williams and Le'Veon Bell have combined to average 76.4 rushing yards per game.
The team clearly misses the explosiveness of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, who suffered season-ending injuries in the preseason.
However, The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker thinks it's unlikely that the Ravens would trade for Mack.
"Mack would help, and he's on a cheap one-year deal, but that doesn't mean the Colts would be eager to flip him for a late-round pick," Walker wrote. "Nothing in [General Manager Eric] DeCosta's track record suggests he would pay more than that for a running back. So the odds are against a trade coming together."
- Outside linebacker Odafe Oweh has the second-best odds to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, according to DraftKings, via PFF. Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons is the favorite.