Secondary health is already concern No. 1
We spent the last nine months assuming the Ravens could not reach the depths of 2021, when they finished last in pass defense. Humphrey and Marcus Peters would be back. Safety Marcus Williams would shore up the back line. First-round pick Kyle Hamilton would be an immediate playmaker, and veteran Kyle Fuller would provide battle-tested depth. New defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald would make the pieces dance in patterns not limited by traditional notions of position. No, it could not get as bad as it did last year, when they gave up 435 yards to Derek Carr and 402 to Carson Wentz and 525 to Joe Burrow.
Well, Tagovailoa’s fourth quarter — 13 of 17 for 199 yards and four touchdowns — said 2022 could be every bit as bad.
We saw a panoply of horrors on the 59-yard catch-and-run by Waddle that set up Miami’s first touchdown. Linebacker Patrick Queen stumbled and fell in coverage. Armour-Davis was bowled over by a block. Williams could not shove Waddle out of bounds.
With the Ravens protecting a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, Hill ran right past Peters for a 48-yard touchdown. He dusted him badly enough that he had time to stop and wait for Tagovailoa’s underthrown pass to reach him.
On Miami’s next possession, Hill accelerated past Armour-Davis, who seemed to think he would have safety help behind him. There were three Ravens who could have shaded to that side of the field, but none did as Hill caught a 60-yard touchdown with no one near him to tie the game at 35.
“There were miscommunications across the whole defense,” Armour-Davis said when asked what happened on the play. “It’s something we’ve got to fix. It’s something we emphasized all week, so it’s definitely disappointing.”
But as the Ravens wait for Bowser and Ojabo, they are putting all of the pass-rush onus on Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston. Means went down with a significant ankle injury early in the second quarter Sunday, further weakening the team’s depth at the position. Houston has played extremely well with sacks in each of his first two games, but he’s also logged over 100 snaps already and that’s a lot to ask of a 33-year-old. When the Ravens needed somebody on defense to make a play in the fourth quarter, nobody emerged. You can’t attribute that all to fatigue, but after combining for 107 snaps on a warm afternoon, there’s no way Oweh and Houston were especially fresh.
Then, there’s the status of blocking tight end Nick Boyle, who has been a healthy scratch for the past two weeks at a time when the team is struggling to run the ball. The Ravens have used Josh Oliver as the No. 3 tight end. He has played 47 snaps over two games and has yet to be targeted on a pass. If the Ravens feel that Oliver is a better blocker than Boyle at this point and thus a better fit for the game day roster, that begs the question of what exactly is the plan for Boyle?
In Sunday’s game, the Ravens had three backup inside linebackers active, Kristian Welch, Josh Ross and Del’Shawn Phillips. For a second straight week, all of them saw action exclusively on special teams. The Ravens also elevated wide receiver Raleigh Webb from the practice squad to play special teams. That’s a lot of spots devoted to special teams, when the Ravens were so thin at outside linebacker and struggling to get enough healthy corners on the field.
Now to the carnage. Perhaps the most alarming thing about the Ravens’ 42-38 loss to the Dolphins was their atrocious fourth-quarter defense. It is inexplicable that they allowed four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, even more so considering what a priority the organization has made their secondary in recent years.
But if I’m being honest, I absolutely don’t think the prevailing story of the day was the play of the defense. Don’t get me wrong, the unit’s performance was inexcusable. And we knew before the season began that the Ravens were in a bind when it came to the edge rush picture. The franchise has decided to emphasize the back end of the defense. Yet when teams have four downs to work with and rules that aren’t favorable to defensive backs, it certainly feels like the plays have to be made up front.
Really, the prevailing story of the day is that the Ravens can’t run the ball. And if a team can’t run the ball in the NFL, it can lose in just about any circumstance imaginable.
It is unreasonable to ask your quarterback to be the whole of your offense. While Lamar Jackson is one of the most remarkable athletes and football players on the face of the planet, there is a toll with having to be so physically involved during the course of the season.
The rules of football are set to benefit offenses. Offenses have to shoulder more of a load in 2022. That’s how this works. The Ravens did a lot of good things offensively against the Dolphins. If they could have run the ball even a little bit with their running backs, we might not be talking about their defense.
Justice Hill Could See More Touches
The Ravens are looking for more production from their running backs, which could lead to a larger role for Justice Hill, who had a 13-yard run Sunday and finished with 16 yards on three carries. Hill has made an impressive recovery from last year’s torn Achilles and is running with authority.
“He’s doing a great job,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’s looked good all through the preseason. He came back from his injury exceptionally well. All of his numbers are way up – even better than he was before – and he’s running hard. Yes, Justice Hill – thumbs up. The arrow is up.”
Lamar Jackson accounted for 119 of Baltimore’s 155 yards rushing on Sunday, including a 79-yard touchdown gallop. Kenyan Drake (six carries, eight yards) and Mike Davis (five carries, four yards) were held in check, and Baltimore was held to 63 yards rushing in Week 1.
“We’ve got to get our running game going, and I think the running backs are a big part of that,” Harbaugh said. “Running backs have a lot to do with how good your run game is, and we need those guys to help make our run game better.”