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Back to Work, & In First Place

Marlon Humphrey
Marlon Humphrey looks on during OTAs (Photo Credit: Baltimore Ravens)
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The Ravens will get back to work this week healthier and focused after enjoying their bye.

At 5-2, the Ravens took over first place in the AFC North without playing a game because the Bengals were upset by the Jets on Sunday afternoon.

And reinforcements are on the way.

The potential players that could return from injuries are:

All of those players should make a significant impact.

However, the Ravens will need to improve three main areas to make a deep run in the playoffs.

1. Tackling

One area the Ravens need to improve is their tackling. The problem was magnified against the Bengals when cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety Chuck Clark whiffed on a tackle that allowed an 82-yard touchdown to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

Two weeks earlier, Colts quarterback Carson Wentz threw a screen pass to Jonathan Taylor, who ran for a 76-yard touchdown. Taylor was not even touched by a defender on the play. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh is determined to fix these issues over the bye.

“There are a lot of things that go into it,” Harbaugh said. “When you watch, yes, we didn’t tackle well. There is no question about that. The biggest problem we have on defense right now, in terms of the big plays, is not getting guys on the ground. Whether it’s been underneath slant routes, or screen routes, or in one case, we got the screen and go – that’s the first time we’ve had one thrown over our head, really, I believe this year.

“Most of them have been catch and run plays, and that’s going back to the Kansas City game. That’s been on and off a problem all year. Until we get that fixed, we’ll be a very mediocre defense, generally speaking. Our guys understand that.”

2. Running Attack

The Ravens are ranked fourth in the NFL with 149.4 yards per game, largely because of Lamar Jackson. The quarterback is ranked sixth among all players with 480 yards rushing.

However, the Ravens are not getting much production out of their current group of running backs. Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell are averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Of course, the running attack was going to struggle after the team lost the top three players on the depth chart to injuries in training camp.

Their performance will need to improve over the second half of the season. While the players simply need to run more effectively, the blocking also has played a key role.

“I think early in the year, we’re running the ball pretty decent,” offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said. Against the Chargers, we did pretty good against them, too, last week. If you look at yards per carry, it wasn’t bad, but we just didn’t do it often enough.

Look at the statistics, and we went in reverse. We threw the ball more than we ran, OK? So, that happens because of the position we’re in, but we’re going to do what we have to do to win. Some games, we’re going to be running. But I think our run blocking will continue to improve. The guys will apply to get there, and our [running] backs will gel with us.”

3. Secondary

The Ravens’ defensive backs have been admittedly inconsistent this season. They have allowed an opponent to rack up more than 500 yards of offense two times in three weeks.

Opposing quarterbacks have found holes in Baltimore’s secondary, which is hindered by the season-ending knee injury to cornerback Marcus Peters. Anthony Averett has filled in admirably in Peters’ absence despite being targeted the most times in the NFL. Humphrey managed his first turnover of the season with an interception against the Bengals, but has missed several tackles.

The safeties — Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott — have also performed unevenly.

The Ravens have allowed 2,073 passing yards over seven games, the worst performance in franchise history. Baltimore is just the third team in NFL history to allow three 400-yard passers in the first seven games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“We’re going to get better over the bye [week],” Ravens pass game coordinator/secondary coach Chris Hewitt said. “That’s our whole charge going throughout … Even starting from the first game, it’s just to continue to keep on getting better. We’ve had some bumps in the road, and we just continue to keep on getting better that way. We’ll keep on working our technique.

“And the message hasn’t changed; the sky is not falling or anything like that. We’re in a good position, and we’re just going to continue to keep on getting better and keep on working at the skills that we’ve been doing ever since I’ve been here.”

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