When Marlon Humphrey suffered a torn pectoral injury in Week 13, it made him the third Ravens’ starter in the secondary and second Pro Bowl cornerback to be suffer a season-ending injury — joining veteran ballhawk Marcus Peters and fourth-year free safety DeShon Elliott.
With Humphrey and Peters patrolling the perimeter in the passing game, the Ravens boasted arguably the top cornerback tandem in the entire league. However, with both now out of commission, many are wondering how their already much maligned pass defense will get by or survive all together.
The remaining members of their cornerback depth chart will be tasked with competing against some elite passing offenses down the stretch. The group includes fourth-year pro Anthony Averett, second-year pro Chris Westry, veterans Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young and Kevon Seymour, recently added Daryl Worley and third-year pro Robert Jackson.
Averett has been stepping up in a major way for the Ravens all year since Peters’ injury just before the season thrusted him into full-time starter status. Despite being the most targeted corner in the league, he is only allowing 55 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed and an opposing passer rating of 77. Averett has helped further fill the void left by the three-time Pro Bowler from a ball-hawking standpoint with his team-leading three interceptions.
Westry has gone from a roster bubble guy before training camp to making the final 53-man roster and now finds himself taking in a much larger role. He has started the last two games he has appeared in and against the Browns in Week 14, he gave up some plays but made his fair share as well. Westry didn’t play this past week after landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list but when he returns, he will likely go back to starting opposite Averett.
Chris Westry can run man!— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) December 14, 2021
Short motion from the slot to the split for Landry and tries to run the leak wheel and Westry sifts through the trash to run it down, turns his head then tries to make a play.
Should’ve been a no call or OPI. pic.twitter.com/1dDJRefQg4
Veteran nickelback Tavon Young is still one of the best slot corners in the league and has been having a nice season since returning from his third major injury. He is only allowing a career-low opposing passer rating of 72.9, the second lowest percentage of the passes thrown his way are being completed at 61 and the lowest yards perception of his career with 8.7. Young has only surrendered one touchdown in coverage in 14 games, which didn’t come until just recently.
Wentz puts this RPO slant SLIGHTLY behind his target, and Tavon Young breaks it up.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 13, 2021
Tavon had an outstanding game pic.twitter.com/hVMJDUv3ra
Veteran Jimmy Smith is the elder statesman the most experienced of the bunch. He was brought back for another season just in case a situation like the Ravens currently find themselves in now were to occur. He hasn’t played a lot of snaps this year but that is subjected to change going forward when he comes off the COVID list. In the eight games that he has appeared in thus far, Smith has only allowed 57.1 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed, an opposing passer rating of just 70.8 and hasn’t given up a touchdown.
Worley was signed to the practice squad on Tuesday and brings quality depth and extensive starting experience to the table. He’s made 54 career starts of a possible 69 games in his six seasons in the league. Worley’s addition means that they will not have to lean on their less experienced corners on the depth chart and practice squad.
Seymour and Jackson are what is left to fill and round out the depleted depth chart and both have mainly been used on special teams in the games they’ve appeared in. They both saw their most extensive playing time on defense against the Green Bay Packers. Seymour got wrongfully called for a costly pass interference and in his first defensive action of the season while Jackson gave up a pair of touchdowns.
This unit faced arguably its toughest test for the remainder of the regular season when they went Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Week 15. They fared well relative to extremely low expectations of them heading into the matchup. Many anticipated that the reigning league MVP would light up the Ravens’ decimated defensive backfield for 300+ yards and a minimum of four or more scores — and that All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams would be the recipient of several touchdowns.
Despite missing several starters and primary backups, who were already filling in for injured players, neither perceived eventualities came to fruition this past Sunday. While Rodgers still had a strong outing with 268 yards and three touchdowns passing, he fell 32 yards short of the 300 mark against the 31st ranked pass defense in the league. Adams scored his eighth touchdown of the season but was held to his lowest receiving total of the season with Rodgers at quarterback and second-lowest overall with just 44 yards on six receptions.
The Ravens will face a pair of dangerous aerial attacks over the next two games. Their secondary as a whole will continue to be tested relentlessly since they have the top-ranked run defense but the cornerbacks especially will be under heavy fire. Up first is the Cincinnati Bengals in a huge divisional matchup on the road in Week 16 followed by the Los Angeles Rams at home next week.
The Bengals handed the Ravens their most lopsided loss of the season when they came into Baltimore in Week 7. They lit up a healthier secondary than the one that will take the field on Sunday for three touchdowns and 409 net yards through the air. That game was the epitome of issues the team was having on defense early in the year with poor tackling and miscommunication resulting in big plays downfield. While they still allow the occasional big gain through the air, the Ravens have improved on their tackling and cut down on the number of wide-open targets deep down the field.
The Rams have one of the most explosive and deceptive offenses in the league and, like the Bengals, have several weapons in the passing game that can make plays at every level. Communication and discipline will be paramount in this matchup since Sean McVay’s offense use nearly as much motion, counter, and misdirection as Ravens’ Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman. If they don’t there will be several wide-open targets on play-action passing plays and the game would turn into a shootout.
The Ravens have made deep playoff runs in the past without their best corners and with depleted defensive backfields. In 2014, they nearly made it to the AFC championship game with Anthony Levine Sr. and Rashan Melvin as their starting outside cornerbacks. They had lost Jimmy Smith and seemingly countless others to season-ending injuries throughout the regular season.
When they won their second Superbowl in franchise history in 2012, they weren’t starting household names at cornerback either. Veteran Lardarius Webb was lost for the year with a torn ACL after six games and Smith hadn’t established himself as a starter in his second season.
With mid-tier to above-average veterans Cary Williams and Corey Graham starting on the outside, the Ravens ran through the postseason gauntlet that included a rookie Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady still in their respective primes, and an emerging Colin Kaepernick and still managed to run the table.
I am not saying that the current 2021 Ravens with this M.A.S.H unit that some would go as far as to call a rag-tag group at cornerback will go all the way and win it all. However, just because the odds aren’t in their favor, it doesn’t mean they can’t overcome and perform over expectation. They’ve actually made a habit of it all season long and if they can punch their ticket to the playoffs, they’ll have an opportunity to prove themselves on the biggest stages.