After showing flashes of dominant play-making ability as a rookie last year, expectations for Baltimore Ravens second-year inside linebacker Patrick Queen were sky high entering the 2021 season.
Queen showed improvement in areas of perceived deficiency during training camp as well as in limited snaps in the preseason this offseason. Unfortunately for the Ravens and their 2020 first-round pick, he struggled during the first five weeks of the regular season. Many of the problems that cost him in the DROY race down the stretch last season reared their ugly heads. Queen consistently missed tackles and had lapses in coverage as the starting MIKE linebacker.
Those struggles forced the Ravens to reduce Queen’s role and elevate veteran Josh Bynes into a full-time starting role. Instead of wallowing in despair over his shortcomings, the 22-year-old defender responded with his best games of the season over the team’s last two games before their bye week.
Patrick Queen the first five weeks:— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) October 26, 2021
Lowest among all LBs
Patrick Queen the last two weeks:
Highest among all LBs pic.twitter.com/oaNXiIf6Rz
“Still need room to improve. Everybody knows that. It’s obvious,” Queen said Tuesday. “It’s just a level of being consistent, being dominant. Just going out there and play football like I know I could play, like they know I could play. That’s all it is, and that’s all it’s going to be. Just got to get better.”
Watch Patrick Queen’s eyes, feet and hips as he closes the RPO throwing windows fluidly. pic.twitter.com/OKOAugA74G— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 18, 2021
Queen keeps square, beats the OH to their spot and lays a BIG hit on Joe Mixon, who is enormous and strong as an ox.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 25, 2021
Queen is FIRED up. Rightfully so. He’s playing some good linebacker! pic.twitter.com/ZLrDM2nb2r
Queen went from underperforming as the starting MIKE playing the vast majority of the team’s defensive snaps to thriving as the WILL playing less than half of the total defensive snaps. Playing alongside a more seasoned linebacker in a limited role — that allows him to think less and use his elite athleticism — is a situation that Queen is familiar with and shined in during his colligate career.
“It’s what I used to play at LSU, so I kind of had a feel to it,” Queen said. “And just being alongside somebody that’s been in the league a long time, it helps me a little bit. It’s a confidence thing. I just got to go out there and play the game that I know I can play at a high level.”
Queen’s struggles through the early portion of the season aren’t unique to him, as the Ravens’ defense as a whole has struggled mightily with consistency from a tackling and coverage standpoint. However, the position he plays is one of great prominence historically with the Ravens’ franchise. It comes with great responsibility and high expectations, so all of his mistakes are more magnified than some of his other teammates. As bad as he’d like to have those bad plays back, he’s not dwelling on them and is focused on improving each week instead.
“Thinking too much, overthinking,” Queen said. “It’s just technique – just go in there, break down, tackle, move your feet, wrap up. It’s a lot of times that I just threw my shoulder in there. I wish I could take those plays back and just redo them, re-live them, and just execute on that part. It would’ve saved us a lot of yards, a lot of points. But the only thing I can do now is just improve on that, get better at that, and just try to help my team win more games.”
The gold standard was set by Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who was the anchor in the middle of the defense for nearly two decades. After a gap year following his retirement, the torch was passed to C.J. Mosley, who made the Pro Bowl in four of his five years in Baltimore before breaking the bank in free agency in the 2019 offseason. Queen is younger than either of his more heralded predecessors and didn’t start nearly as many years as they did in college. So, while he has all the physical tools to be great, his maturation will take some time and his coaches agree.
“You can see it’s already slowing down the last two weeks. I think he’s played well the last couple of weeks,” inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan said. “Again, he does have all the talent in the world. So, as soon as the game can slow down for him, the better he’s going to get. We’re excited about that.”
Typically when a player gets their playing time and snap count reduced in any capacity, it can adversely affect their confidence. That is especially true for young players in their first couple of seasons in the league. Queen isn’t down in the dumps at all but rather has fully embraced his new role on defense, even though it is more limited than what he has been accustomed to since becoming a Raven.
“Wherever I perform at better is where I’m going to play,” Queen said. “I’m going to leave that to the coaches. I’m just out there to perform, do my best, and whatever they feel like is the best at the end of the day. That’s what I’m going to do.”
The trust that Queen has in his coaches and teammates will be instrumental in his development. Hopefully, Bynes can be to Queen what Daryl Smith was to Mosely at the start of his career and allow him to blossom into one of the premier players at the position and next great middle linebacker in franchise history.