After thoroughly proving he could no longer cover adequately as a cornerback, the Baltimore Ravens transitioned Lardarius Webb to safety full-time this past offseason. The eight-year veteran was supposed to bring savvy and ballhawking ability to the defensive backfield. Through the first six games of the 2016 season, Webb has not played well enough to help the Ravens get back to the playoffs.
Mostly lining up at free safety besides impact free agent strong safety Eric Weddle, Webb has played nearly 100% of the Ravens defensive snaps this season. Webb’s stat line is far from impressive, he has accumulated 17 tackles, one pass defensed, zero sacks, zero interceptions and zero forced fumbles. Evidenced by their 3-3 record, the Ravens have needed more than their second highest paid player has provided.
Most disappointing is the large role Webb has played in the majority of big plays allowed by the Ravens defense this season.
In Week 1 against the Bills, Webb failed to close on Charles Clay in the seam and then missed the open field tackle, resulting in a 33-yard reception that lead to the Bills only touchdown. In Week 2 against the Browns, Webb was beaten by Duke Johnson in coverage for a 28-yard reception on the first drive, and then could not rotate over the top fast enough to support Shareece Wright on Corey Coleman’s 31-yard touchdown on the same drive. On the ensuing Browns possession, Webb was unblocked in the middle of the field, but could not even slow down Isaiah Crowell as he ran right through him in route to a 85-yard touchdown. Later in the same game, Webb was lined up as the single deep safety, but was no where near the play when Coleman beat Wright again down the middle for a 47-yard gain.
Webb did not make an egregious mistakes in Week 3 against the Jaguars and helped seal the victory when he tipped a pass to Zach Orr for the game clinching interception. But he also did not provide much support to Wright when he was defending Allen Robinson on the goal line either. His individual struggles returned in Week 4 when the Raiders Seth Roberts beat Webb one-on-one in the back of the end zone to score their first touchdown of the game. Later in the same game, Webb was slow to help Wright on one Michael Crabtree touchdown and allowed Crabtree to find space between him and Weddle in the end zone for another score, in a game the Ravens eventually lost.
It did not get any better for Webb in Week 5 against the Redskins. First, he failed to close on Jamison Crowder in zone coverage and then missed the tackle on his 23-yard reception. Again, he was slow to find Pierre Garcon on his touchdown and was unable to contest DeSean Jackson’s 27-yard reception.
The wheels came off in Week 6, when an injury to top corner Jimmy Smith and poor pass rush completely exposed the Ravens lack of quality depth in the secondary. The Ravens had made a noticeable improvement from last season in terms of minimizing long plays downfield up to this point in the season, until Odell Beckham exploded for 222-yards. First, Webb did not get over in time to help Tavon Young on Roger Lewis’ 24-yard score. On Beckham’s 75-yard touchdown, Webb jumped the tight end’s route, leaving Will Davis in man coverage against a streaking Odell. Finally, Webb was caught flat footed in the middle of the field and was unable to even touch Beckham as he ran right by him for a 66-yard touchdown.
After several knee and back injuries over his career, Webb clearly has lost some of his speed and tackling ability. In fairness, most Ravens fans knew Webb was not going to be able to play at a Pro Bowl level at a new position this season, they just hoped he could use his instincts to help cover up their greatest weakness at left cornerback. Through six games, it turns out Webb himself has been the Ravens defense’s weakest link.
The Ravens defensive coaching staff must take some responsibility as well. Leaving players the caliber of Wright or with the inexperience of Young and Davis in single coverage against some of the best receivers in the league was always going to be recipe for disaster. When it became clear the backup corners could not contain Beckham on Sunday, the coaches should have found some creative ways to pressure the quarterback and utilized double coverage to bracket the playmaker.
Still, Webb is not playing nearly well enough to earn his lucrative contract this season. He has been at the center of the action during the majority of backbreaking plays the defense has allowed so far this season. When Webb has been caught out of position or missed a tackle, it has been extremely costly to the team.
The Ravens are reeling right now, having lost three straight, with injuries mounting and major coaching changes already made. Bottom line, the Ravens margin for error in 2016 is simply not great enough to overcome this many mistake from their $9.5 million free safety.