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Late for Work 12/28: Injuries Not Sole Factor in Defense Being Blasted By Bengals

DT Justin Ellis

Pundit Says Injuries Not Sole Factor in Defense Being Dominated by Bengals

It doesn't take a football genius to realize that injuries and illness played a significant role in the Ravens defense giving up a franchise-worst 575 yards (498 through the air) and 41 points against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Baltimore had 15 defensive players who either sat out or didn't play much, and after Anthony Averett (ribs) left the game during the first quarter, the team had to rely on three cornerbacks who had been on their practice squad.

However, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said the Ravens can't be fooled into thinking that getting healthy will be a cure-all for a unit that is ranked 25th in yards allowed and last in passing yards allowed.

"They can't just attribute the two blowout losses to the upstart Bengals to injuries, not when a more representative Ravens defense also gave up 41 points and 520 yards to Cincinnati in Week 7," Zrebiec wrote.

Burrow's 941 passing yards against the Ravens this season are the most for a player against one opponent in a single season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The sobering reality for the Ravens is that Burrow and the other Cincinnati playmakers aren't going anywhere any time soon.

"As long as he stays healthy, Burrow should only get better," Zrebiec wrote. "[Joe] Mixon still has some good years ahead of him. [Ja'Marr] Chase and [Tee] Higgins are quickly becoming one of the top outside receiving duos in the league and they're in their first and second years, respectively. The Bengals will continue to build their offensive line and they have plenty of salary-cap space and draft picks to fortify their roster."

Zrebiec said General Manager Eric DeCosta will need to build a defense this offseason that can match up better.

"That means adding more speed in the middle of the field and a front seven that can better disrupt the quarterback without blitzing," Zrebiec wrote. "That means the addition of a playmaking safety who can take away the deep part of the field. That, as we saw Sunday, definitely means acquiring more cornerback depth.

"On Sunday, DeCosta got a first-hand look at how dangerous the Bengals offense already is. He'll need to remember what he saw this offseason."

Patrick Queen Continues to Flash Play-Making Ability

One of the few bright spots for the defense on Sunday was the performance of second-year inside linebacker Patrick Queen.

"Was this the best game of Patrick Queen's career? While that may be debatable, what is not is that the first drive of the game was Queen's best ever," Russell Street Report’s Taylor Lyons wrote. "He left his mark all over that drive, one where the Bengals drove into the red zone but were forced to settle for a field goal. It took Cincinnati only four plays to get inside the Ravens' 15-yard line. From there, Queen took over.

"He took down Joe Mixon after a catch for a short gain on first down, shot through into the backfield to take down Mixon for a loss on second down and blanketed Mixon into the back corner of the end zone to force an incompletion on third down. Maybe the greatest three-play sequence from any Raven defender this season."

Zrebiec wrote: "His first quarter might have been the most physical quarter he's played since coming to the NFL."

Queen's solid performance on Sunday wasn't an outlier. He has played consistently well since moving from middle linebacker to weakside inside linebacker earlier this season.

"Queen's turnaround from early season to now has been incredible to see," Lyons wrote. "He's missing fewer tackles, identifying plays better and even maturing in coverage a bit as we saw on Sunday."

Baltimore Positive’s Luke Jones wrote: "Despite no shortage of frustrations for this team down the stretch, the improvement of Patrick Queen has been a bright spot. He still has work to do to live up to his first-round billing, but he's certainly calmed down early-season concerns about him being a bust."

Ravens Again Outside Playoff Picture

Perhaps while you were sleeping last night, the Ravens (8-7) lost their tenuous hold on the AFC's seventh and final playoff spot.

The Miami Dolphins (8-7) overtook the Ravens for the seventh seed with their 20-3 win over the New Orleans Saints, who had 15 players on their Reserve/COVID-19 list and started third-string quarterback Ian Book, on Monday Night Football.

The Ravens, who have dropped from the No. 1 seed four weeks ago to No. 8, now have a 32 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.

Baltimore likely needs to win its final two games and get help to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2017. There are ways for the Ravens to get into the postseason at 9-8, but the Dolphins (winners of seven straight) would have to lose their final two games.

Ravens Select a Cornerback in Pro Football Focus' Latest Mock Draft

The Ravens have a pair of All-Pro cornerbacks in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, but as Zrebiec noted above, the team needs to acquire more depth at the position.

In Pro Football Focus’ Eric Eager’s mock draft, he has the Ravens selecting Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam with the 20th-overall pick.

"The Ravens need a tackle here, but with the best guys off the board and without any trades in this mock draft, they go with the process that made them a great defense before injury variance struck in 2021," Eager wrote. "Elam struggled quite a bit this year, earning just a 57.8 coverage grade despite surrendering just 191 yards and two touchdowns in coverage (seven penalties didn't help). He was great in 2019 and 2020, earning coverage grades of 89.8 and 81.0 those years."

Elam is the nephew of former NFL safety Matt Elam, who was drafted by the Ravens in the first round in 2013.

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