The Baltimore Ravens were slated to boast the deepest and most talented defensive backfields in the entire league heading into the 2021 regular season. Cornerback in particular was where they were the strongest, headlined by the elite Pro Bowl tandem of Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey and rounded out by several quality depth players that would likely start on many other teams.
Unfortunately, like so many other vital position groups on the roster, the Ravens have been ravaged by injuries in secondary. Peters suffered a torn ACL a week before the season opener, starting free safety DeShon Elliott tore his biceps in Week 9 and Humphrey joined them on season-ending injured reserve after tearing his pectoral this past Sunday in the team’s Week 13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
These severe blows to their starting lineup have forced players that were previously slated to play sparingly on defense and predominantly on special teams into full-time starter or at least heavy rotational roles. One such player is fourth-year corner Anthony Averett and while his heart goes out to his fallen brothers, he is ready to help his team overcome their latest bout with adversity.
“It’s another soldier, just like Marcus [Peters] early in the season but we’ve got to continue to move forward,” said Averett Wednesday. “You can’t replace a guy like that, but we’ve just got to continue to move forward, and we’ve got guys … Next-man mentality. You’ve got other guys out there that can step up.”
Averett was the next man up when Peters went down and while he has had his fair share of struggles at times, giving up a few plays here and there, he’s performed well overall as the No. 2 corner this year. He currently leads the team in interceptions with two and is second in pass deflections with nine.
If Anthony Averett can somehow play against the remaining WR1s as well as he played against Tyreek Hill, I’ll be very satisfied pic.twitter.com/YWbfShQyA6— The Ravens Realm (@RealmRavens) December 7, 2021
With Humphrey gone, he will now be tasked with the responsibility of being the new No. 1 coverman in the Ravens’ depleted secondary and is ready to embrace an expanded role.
“I’m ready for it. I’m here preparing for it. I’ve been here. I’m confident. My coaches, they definitely prepare for it, [and] they prepare us for it,” said Averett.
An area that has been hurting the Ravens defense all season even with Humphrey in the lineup is the secondary’s propensity for giving up big plays through the air. One of the main contributors to the persisting fatal flaw has been a lack of consistent communication which has led to several blown coverages that have resulted in back-breaking touchdowns and long field-flipping gains.
The Ravens had held the Steelers to just a field goal through the first three-quarters of this past Sunday’s game. That was until a miscommunication between Averett and Humphrey early in the fourth quarter left Pittsburgh wide receiver Diontae Johnson wide open for a 29-yard score that sparked their rival’s comeback and made it a one-possession game. Averett admitted that he was responsible for the costly mistake and knows that it can’t persist after injuries have made both their depth chart and margin for error razor.
“Pretty much everybody was playing one thing except me,” Averett said. “I was the far corner, I didn’t get the communication. That was all me on that. The communication, everything, has just got to improve. It’s got to improve even more now. We’ve got new faces out there.”
Part of his expanded duties will likely include following opposing teams’ top receivers. He was already one of the most targeted defensive backs in the league through the first 13 weeks of the season with 91 passes having been thrown his way but only 54.9 percent were completed in the 11 games he’s played this year.
Anthony Averett being targeted for the third time in the opening drive. Pressed on an island against Tee Higgins.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 25, 2021
Hips, feet and plays through the catch point. Ball a bit high, but still in good position.
Nice drive at the stem. Flattens out and stays on the route. pic.twitter.com/5yowOmopvA
He knows that the target on his back will only grow larger from here on out. The Ravens will square off against three passing offenses that rank in the top 10 of the entire league, the Los Angeles Rams, and Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals ,all of which have talented and deep receiving cores.
“It’s like, nobody left from the beginning stages, but we’ve just got to continue to move forward,” said Averett. “Nobody cares. Nobody thought we were going to be in this position – No. 1 in the AFC North – anyway. So, we’ve just got to continue to move forward.”
Martindale shared similar sentiments when he stepped to the podium to talk to the media on Thursday.
“Time’s too short to have an emotional hangover,” he said. “Everybody’s got problems in this league.”
While the season injuries to Humphrey and Peters are devastating to say the least, they also have provided Averett with a golden opportunity to showcase his talents in the final year of his rookie contract. If he answers the call and plays at a high level down the stretch, the pending unrestricted free agent will put himself in a position to earn a big payday in Baltimore or elsewhere in the offseason.