The Ravens haven't won a game since their defense registered a franchise-record 11 sacks against the Tennessee Titans.
Recent opponents have relied on quick passes and shorter quarterback drops to counter Baltimore's pass rush. They saw how the Ravens pounded Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota like a piñata.
Getting the ball out quickly against the Ravens has become a priority, something the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers all did effectively during Baltimore's three-game losing streak.
So how will the Ravens' defense counter the get-the-ball-out quickly strategy, something they are likely to see Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals? Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said it might call for closer man-to-man coverage, forcing Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to hesitate long enough for Baltimore's pass rush to reach him.
"The key is tight coverage," Humphrey said. "You have to get your hands on the receivers. Quarterbacks have been really getting the ball out quickly lately – ever since we had that big sack game. So the key is just to try to get your hands on these receivers, know what your assignment is and just be ready."
Getting the ball out quickly is Dalton's standard operating procedure, and he has done it well against Baltimore. In his last two games against the Ravens, Dalton has thrown seven touchdown passes without an interception, while the Ravens have recorded just one sack.
However, the Ravens will have more depth at cornerback Sunday than they had Week 2, when the Bengals won a 34-23 decision. Jimmy Smith missed that game while serving a four-game suspension, but Smith has returned to join a healthy Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young at corner.
The Bengals are also expected to be without star wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) on Sunday, which could make Cincinnati more reliant on its running game led by Joe Mixon. But when Dalton does throw, the Ravens' corners want to make sure he holds the ball longer than he wants.
"When you have a game when you get 11 sacks, teams are going to get the ball out quickly," Smith said. "How do you counter that? Tighter coverage."
Humphrey Knows Ravens Can't Afford to Sleep on Tyler Boyd
The Ravens have learned painfully that Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd is a playmaker. Boyd's game-winning 49-yard touchdown catch in the season finale last year kept the Ravens from making the playoffs. In Week 2 this season, Green was the star of the game with three touchdowns against the Ravens, but Boyd also got off with six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.
"The past two games, we didn't really give him much respect and he's definitely shown us we should," Humphrey said.
If Green doesn't play, Boyd will become Dalton's primary weapon. Green's numbers this season (45 catches, 687 yards, six touchdowns) are very similar to Boyd's (52 catches, 685 yards, five touchdowns).
"Quite honestly, (No.) 83 has been just as good as he (Green) has the past couple of years," safety Eric Weddle said. "We're treating him in the same realm. We've got to keep him in check."
Eric Weddle Making Sure Humphrey Stays Humble
Humphrey was paid a major compliment by Head Coach John Harbaugh before Wednesday's practice. Then Weddle made sure the praise didn't go to Humphrey's head.
The Ravens' pass defense suffered during the two games Humphrey missed with a thigh injury. Asked about Humphrey's play this season, Harbaugh said he thought the second-year cornerback could become a star.
"I really think Marlon is becoming one of the top corners in the league," Harbaugh said. "I don't want to put that on him and put any pressure on him, but gosh, I think he'd appreciate it. That's his goal, and when he's in there, we're complete in the secondary."
Humphrey accepted Harbaugh's comment, but acknowledged he had not reached his potential.
"It feels good for him to say that," Humphrey said. "I know I have a lot to work on to get at the top like those guys. But it feels good when your coach can say something like that. It's a big compliment."
Told of Harbaugh's comments a short time later, Weddle curbed the enthusiasm. With the Ravens (4-5) riding a three-game losing streak, Weddle wants the defense to remain humble.
"He just needs to be more consistent," Weddle said of Humphrey. "I think the sky's the limit for him. He just has to focus on every play. He has too many lapses during the games and he knows it. I wouldn't put him up there yet. He needs to be out there and play at a high level for the entire game, the whole season. I love him. He can get there. I wouldn't anoint him yet."
Weddle is showing tough love until the Ravens get back to playing winning football.
"Defensively, we're trying to strive to be the best in the league," Weddle said. "If we play like that and strive to be the best and get better in the red zone … when we start creating some turnovers, we're going to be even better."
Ty Montgomery's Playing Time Will Depend on This Week's Practice
Running back Ty Montgomery did not dress Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers after being acquired a few days earlier in a trade with the Green Bay Packers. The bye week gave Montgomery extra time to learn the playbook, but Harbaugh said Montgomery's availability for Sunday's game will be based on how he looks in practice.
"He's really working hard at it," Harbaugh said. "It's not as easy as you think. The terminology is tough, the plays are a little different. The reads are a little different.
"I'm very confident he could go in and play, and play well, and he might. The next three days are going to be really important that way, because these are three specific practices toward actually what we're going to run in the game, and I want to see what he looks like with that stuff."