The Baltimore Ravens allocated just over $58 million to their secondary this season.
So far, they have not gotten a solid return on that investment.
The Ravens enter Week 6 ranked 29th against the pass, allowing 280 yards per game.
Baltimore, however, has been hampered by injuries to cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young. The Ravens also lost starting safety Tony Jefferson to a season-ending knee injury Week 5 in a 26-23 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The team’s defensive backs have been a work in progress. There have been several breakdowns that have led to big plays downfield.
Baltimore inked Earl Thomas to a four-year, $55-million deal in the offseason from Seattle to offset the loss of Eric Weddle, who signed with the Rams after being released. Thomas is still getting accustomed to the Ravens exotic defensive packages compared to the Seahawks, who ran a standard Cover-3 scheme most of the time.
“This defense is very complex compared to what we were doing in Seattle,” Thomas said. “We’re making calls on the fly. That’s the biggest part. That’s the biggest adjustment for me. But, just being around these guys, that brings it all in. They’re helping me. That’s what brothers do.”
The buzzword floating around the Ravens secondary is “communication.” The defenders claim they need to do a better job putting themselves in the proper position to make plays.
The loss of Jefferson could create a bigger challenge.
The veteran defensive back had been handling the Ravens’ defensive communication responsibilities for the past two games.
The Ravens players acknowledged it’s going to be a challenge to overcome his absence in the lineup. Third-year player Chuck Clark took the majority of reps when Jefferson went down with the injury and played effectively. DeShon Elliott, a sixth-round pick from Texas in the 2018 NFL Draft, will also have an opportunity to earn more reps.
“That’s really hard. That’s one of our top leaders,” inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said. “That’s one of the leaders that we all look up to communicating on the field. I get a lot of things and info from Tony [Jefferson]. It kind of hurts us really bad, but I think it’s an opportunity for a lot of guys to step up, like Chuck and DeShon.
“But the loss of Tony, it’s really hard. It still doesn’t feel real. We talk to him every day just to keep him positive and keep him motivated, but I think DeShon and Chuck are going to come in and do a great job.”
The Ravens allowed more than 500 yards in back-to-back losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. Baltimore bounced back with the victory over Pittsburgh, which was playing without injured starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and managed 269 yards of total offense.
Baltimore (3-2) can extend its lead atop the AFC North by getting past the winless Bengals (0-5) in Week 6. From there, the schedule gets tougher with upcoming games against playoff-caliber teams, including the Seahawks, Patriots, Texans, Rams, 49ers and Bills.
Thomas is seeing gradual improvement with the secondary. The Ravens are going to need to play much better to make a run to the postseason for the second straight year.
“I know it, just by the results that we’re getting after the games that we’ve played in and what we put on film,” Thomas said. “We’re seeing what we’re good at. We’re seeing what we’re struggling at, and we’re making the right corrections. It might not show up right off, but it’s going to pay off in the end.
“We want to own the division. We want to own the division, and this is one team in our way. We want to put everybody in our rearview [mirror] and have separation, so we know that we’re really solidified in the playoffs.”