OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the weeks mounted this season for the Ravens, so did their injury list in the secondary.
It started in the preseason when Tavon Young was lost for the season with a neck injury. Things only worsened from there as Jimmy Smith sprained his MCL, Tony Jefferson suffered a significant knee injury, DeShon Elliott was lost for the season and Justin Bethel had to be waived to save a compensatory pick.
But the status of the secondary, it appears, is nearing the end of its darkest days.
Baltimore traded for Marcus Peters from Los Angeles a week before the trade deadline, Smith got healthy and Chuck Clark stepped into a new role in the defensive backfield. With all on the field, the result was the Ravens’ most impressive win of the season.
“Now that everybody is healthy and we’re out there, our game-planning can expand a little bit more each week, just based on the talent that we have back there,” Smith said. “I’m excited to see what the coaches come up with.”
The Ravens, after the host of injuries and the acquisition of Peters, were able to experiment a little more in the secondary with a host of various packages.
Last Sunday against the Patriots, of the four Ravens which played 100% of the snaps, all were defensive backs. Peters, Clark, Marlon Humphrey and Earl Thomas never left the field, while Smith and Carr played 81% and 70% of the snaps, respectively.
That versatility gives Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale as much freedom as he needs to get players in the right positions to succeed.
“There were quite a few times against New England when we didn’t even have a linebacker on the field because of their flexibility,” Martindale said. “Each week, it changes. You have a different set of problems, if you will, to attack, and week to week, it will change.”
Two of the biggest changes in the secondary involve Carr and Humphrey.
Humphrey, who spent the beginning part of the season on the outside, has moved at times to the slot in the last two weeks to let Carr and Peters patrol the outside. Humphrey, who is having an All-Pro type season, has typically neutralized the opponent's top receivers this season.
“I think Jimmy and Marcus and B-Carr, we can be a really elite alignment,” Humphrey said.
The second big change involved moving Carr to safety, which allows the Ravens to keep all four of their cornerbacks on the field.
“Brandon is our Swiss Army Knife,” Thomas said. “I really don't have to say too much. Just make sure our communication is right and let him kind of add his own flavor to the game.”
Carr’s move to the safety spot gives the Ravens even more versatility, a spot that seemed impossible for the Ravens to reach about a month ago.
“It was the first time that he was back there live and in action, and it was fun to watch,” Martindale said. “He’s such a great teammate and so selfless in his approach.”
Now that they’ve shown the look on film, the Ravens know it’s in their arsenal moving forward should teams try to spread them out and make plays on the outside.
“We were pretty confident going in that it was going to be good for us because you know the players, and we knew what we wanted to do with the matchups,” coach John Harbaugh said. “But sure, it’s good to see it in action, and it worked. So, it won’t be everything we do, but it will definitely be in the tool bag going forward.”
The secondary, which was once struggling to stay healthy and communicate well with one another, now is one of the best units in the NFL.
“The best thing is that we still have got a lot of football left to figure out what we’re going to do with everybody and how we’re going to do it,” Peters said. “We can do a lot of things, that’s what makes us so versatile. So we’ll have to see.”
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