A day after Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovaila shredded the Ravens’ pass defense for six touchdowns, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked about two of them. The film didn’t lie, and neither did Harbaugh.
“Yes, they were blown coverages, basically,” he said Monday.
A lot went wrong for the Ravens in the final quarter of their 42-38 loss Sunday, but wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s pair of long-ball touchdowns were especially egregious. On the first, he ran by two deep-lying defensive backs for a 48-yard score. On the second, he didn’t have anyone deep to run by for a 60-yard, game-tying score.
In rallying the Dolphins back from a 35-14 deficit inside M&T Bank Stadium, Tagovailoa finished with a career-high 496 passing yards. But much of the damage to the Ravens’ defense was self-inflicted. Afterward, players lamented communication breakdowns and poor technique. They said they’d need to review the game film and learn from it.
Rookie safety Kyle Hamilton’s lesson was painfully administered. On Hill’s first touchdown, he lined up before the third-and-10 snap in a split-field coverage shell with Marcus Williams; Williams started on wide receiver Jaylen Waddle’s side, while Hamilton took Hill’s. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, matched up with Hill, lined up at outside cornerback, offering almost 10 yards of cushion.
As Tagovailoa dropped back, the Ravens sent five pass rushers after him, dropping six defenders into coverage. Williams moved up from his deep-lying spot into a shallower zone, closer to Waddle, who was running a deep crossing route from the slot. Hill accelerated into a vertical route.
Hamilton, relocating to the middle of the field, seemed to lose sight of Hill the farther he got from him. The first-round pick’s attention was on Waddle. But Hill was running by Peters, whose positioning had funneled the wide receiver inside, as if he expected help. It never came. As Tagovailoa unleashed his pass, Hamilton started to break toward Waddle. When he saw the trajectory of Tagovailoa’s pass and whipped his head around, Hill was 5 yards clear of Peters.
“You have to maintain your leverage on the routes,” said Harbaugh, who spoke generally about Sunday’s mistakes, without identifying culprits by name. “When you’re a deep player and there are guys running vertical, [if] you’re a deep player, you stay deep. You don’t get nosy on a crossing route when you have a deep route running up on you. That’s just the way it works as the deep-middle-third player.”
The wrongdoer on Hill’s second score was either Hamilton or Williams. Both lined up in the box on third-and-6, almost close enough to touch, leaving the Ravens without a deep safety before the snap. At one outside cornerback spot was rookie cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis, matched up with Hill. On the other side was Peters. Rookie cornerback Damarion “Pepe” Williams lined up in the slot, not far from Peters.
At the snap, it quickly became apparent that something had gone wrong. While Damarion Williams quickly backpedaled into a deep zone to Tagovailoa’s right, there was no one deep to Tagovailoa’s left; Hamilton and Marcus Williams, having dropped out of their presnap blitz looks, were racing back somewhere.
As Hill tore down the left sideline, Armour-Davis let him pass. The Ravens’ botched play call seemed to be “Cover 2,” a two-deep zone coverage in which the rookie would’ve been responsible for receivers running into the flat, not receivers streaking downfield. When Hill caught Tagovailoa’s pass at about the 20-yard line, the closest safety to him was Williams, still over 5 yards away.
In the locker room afterward, Hamilton said there was a “miscommunication” on the play. Marcus Williams was not available to comment.
“If you’re a deep-half player, you have to know you’re a deep-half player and be back there,” Harbaugh said Monday. “We can’t leave the deep half uncovered. So we show them a blitz and we’re running it out, someone has to be back there, and that’s the responsibility of the person and the coach, all of us, to get that done.”
The Ravens’ breakdowns Sunday “should never happen,” according to Harbaugh, who said he’d review the team’s instruction and preparation. But he acknowledged that the secondary’s youth — Hamilton, Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams, all rookies, played over half of the defense’s snaps — left it somewhat vulnerable against one of the NFL’s fastest receiving corps.
They will have to grow up fast. At rookie minicamp in May, Hamilton noted that at Notre Dame, “We didn’t run a lot of Cover 3.” On Sunday, the Ravens seemed to be running a version of it as Hill, one of the NFL’s fastest players, flew by Hamilton for his first score.
“Things turn, especially when you have good, young players who you like and trust, and we really like those guys, and we trust those guys,” Harbaugh said. “They’re going to learn from their mistakes. Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way. I don’t know how many times in the National Football League you come out there with a bunch of young guys and, all of a sudden, they’re doing everything perfectly right. When you get challenged with really good players in critical situations, it goes bad and it’s painful. It hurts, but you remember those lessons.”
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