Asked about losing twice to the Bengals last season, All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey smiled Wednesday and said, "We're not talking about last year."
You can't blame Humphrey for avoiding the topic. Nobody shredded the Ravens' secondary last year like Cincinnati.
Joe Burrow threw for 941 yards and seven touchdowns in two games against Baltimore. In the one game that Humphrey played, he covered Ja'Marr Chase all over the field but got cooked. Chase finished with eight catches for 201 yards and a touchdown, a long afternoon that Humphrey remembers, even if he's not eager to speak on it.
Sunday night's game against the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium gives Baltimore's defense a chance for redemption. The secondary has new personnel like safeties Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton, Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters is back after missing the 2021 season, and the Ravens have a new defensive coordinator in Mike Macdonald.
However, pass defense remains a major issue for the Ravens, who ranked last in the NFL in pass defense last year when their secondary was riddled with injuries. The Ravens are much healthier this season, but statistically nothing has changed. Baltimore's pass defense remains ranked last, giving up 315.3 passing yards per game.
If the Ravens (2-2) are going to make a legitimate run at reaching the Super Bowl, their pass defense must improve. Even when they don't want to be reminded of that, they are. When Humphrey walked into the cafeteria at the Under Armour Performance Center and looked at the television this week, he was embarrassed when the Ravens' pass defense was being discussed.
"The cafeteria will humble you," Humphrey said. "You've got Good Morning Football, NFL Network, Stephen A. It's humbling to look up there and be like, 'Dang, we've got Marcus Peters – ballhawk- we've got me, Marcus Williams – dog – Chuck (Clark), all these guys (that are) great players.' But we're still trying to come together. To look up there and be eating lunch and see 32nd…
"I think we've all got to step it up. I think accountability is huge. I've just got to play better; we've all got to play better. The numbers don't lie. As much as that sucks to say…to me, it's unacceptable. I feel like it falls on the weight of my shoulders. I really want to get that number down."
The Ravens won't reveal their strategy for slowing down the Bengals, who may have the league's most explosive trio of receivers. Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd all have at least one 1,000-yard season on their resume. Humphrey called them the best wide receiver trio in the league.
If there's a weakness in coverage, Burrow is adept at finding it. Sometimes even tight coverage doesn't stop Cincinnati's passing attack, because Burrow will take chances that other quarterbacks won't, trusting his receivers to make a play.
"What he does best, other than most quarterbacks, is that he just thinks, 'My guy's better than yours,''" Humphrey said. "Whether you're covered or not, the ball's coming up, it's there, and his guys are coming up with those passes a lot."
It will be interesting to see how Macdonald deploys personnel to matchup with Cincinnati. Humphrey, Peters, Williams and Clark played every defensive snap in Week 4 against Buffalo. Brandon Stephens was the preferred nickel cornerback by far, playing 89 percent of the snaps, while Hamilton played just 27 percent of the snaps as the third safety. This week, Chase said he doesn't expect Humphrey to shadow him like last season.
Macdonald must figure out how to contain the triplet receivers, plus former Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst who is fifth on the team in receiving yards with 104 yards and one touchdown. Generating a pass rush against Burrow will be important, because the more time he has, the more likely he'll find a matchup he likes.
"They built the offense really well around what he does well," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Its not just getting the ball out quick and on time, it's not just reading coverage; he can hold the ball, he can move in the pocket - they do the play action stuff as well - he's tough to get down in the pocket. All those things are kind of staples to his game, and I see him doing it just like he's been doing it."
The Ravens had some glaring coverage miscues against Miami in Week 2 that led to their loss. While coverage mistakes were not the story against the Bills, Baltimore still failed to protect a 17-point lead, and Buffalo moved the ball when it mattered most in the fourth quarter. Baltimore's entire defense is under scrutiny, and Humphrey said the onus is on the players to move the defense in a better direction.
"We're just still trying to gel," Humphrey said. "I think Mike has done a really good job of educating us on defense. It's crazy, when you look at the film, the calls are perfect; it's just, the players, we've just got to work together, we've got to make the plays.
"We're close. We're really, really close. That's what's really encouraging."
A win over the Bengals would be even more encouraging, especially if the pass defense can hold down one of the league's most dangerous passing attacks. The team that wins Sunday night could find itself alone in first place in the AFC North on Monday morning. If that happens, it would help Humphrey and his teammates sleep better.
"I'm super excited for this challenge," Humphrey said. "I know it's going to be a tough one, so hopefully we can get it done."