It’s hard to spout the football cliché of “next man up” when you’re running out of men.

Losing Marlon Humphrey, the team’s top (and arguably only) established corner, would have been hard enough if the Baltimore Ravens were healthy. But they’re not: Damarion “Pepe” Williams, Rock Ya-Sin, Jalyn Armour-Davis and Arthur Maulet also did not take the field Wednesday as Humphrey was preparing for surgery.

Several of those corners could be back soon. Williams will miss several games, and although Humphrey’s official timeline is still undetermined, it’s reasonable to assume he could miss a few, too. It’s looking ominous out there, and as for scouring for reinforcements, John Harbaugh said it best: “We’ll look at them, but you have to understand, it’s late.”

We’re weeks out from the Ravens’ season opener against Houston. Rookie C.J. Stroud might not stress the secondary too much, but Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow (assuming he’s healthy) certainly will cause problems in Week 2. If Humphrey can’t play by then, it’s fanciful to think a late-August waiver pickup will shore up their coverage.

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For the Ravens, it can’t be “next man up.” It has to be the next men over, especially the edge rushers who are already under pressure to produce.

If Baltimore can’t cover opposing receivers, it will have to keep opposing quarterbacks scrambling. And that means proving that the pass rush — already under scrutiny — has to be one of the team’s best aspects, whatever it takes.

Eyes have been on the edges for a while. Two of the Ravens’ top pressure creators, Justin Houston and Calais Campbell, are gone. Both were getting long in the tooth, but logic isn’t going to save the front office from scrutiny if the pass rush looks toothless this fall. A number of NFL national analysts have already targeted the Ravens’ pass rush as the biggest question mark of their contender status.

So it falls largely to Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo (and backup Tyus Bowser) to make up the gap. Their promise showed during the Ravens’ joint practices with the Washington Commanders this week. Oweh had three sacks in 11-on-11s on Tuesday, while Ojabo bounced back from a rough outing with a strong practice Wednesday. As unproven as they are — especially Ojabo coming back from injury — they’ll have to keep up the pace and make opposing quarterbacks learn to listen for their footsteps.

Humphrey lauded Oweh and Ojabo on Tuesday, before his injury was known. “I’m ready to see them do it on Sundays and kind of be able to become household names for themselves.,” he said. Now that Humphrey’s off the field, they’ll have to take that kind of leap.

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But that will also require second-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to take a step outside his comfort zone.

The Ravens were a blitzing machine under coordinator Wink Martindale, erring on the “risk” side of risk taking. Martindale ranked first in blitz rate in 2019 and 2020 before settling to 31.1% in 2021. But, in his first year, Macdonald was pretty conservative by comparison, blitzing just 21.3% of the time.

If Martindale was too hot, Macdonald might’ve been a little too cold. Although the Ravens came up with 48 sacks, tied for fifth in the NFL, they ranked 23rd in QB pressure rate (19.2%). When pass rushers didn’t get to the quarterback, opposing passers weren’t feeling as much heat, contributing to the Ravens’ 26th-ranked pass-yard defense.

Humphrey is foundational to coverage. Although he missed only a small sample of snaps last season, opposing passer rating and accuracy rose when he was off the field, and the Ravens didn’t get an interception without him on it. If they sit back in games without Humphrey in coverage, they risk being picked apart.

Sitting back and staying predictable is not the Ravens’ way of doing things on defense. Oweh and Ojabo will have to be hard chargers, and Macdonald will have to help them by deploying more creative blitz packages to keep the offenses guessing.

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Short of Humphrey making a miraculous return, taking a few more gambles is the only shot they’ve got.

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum.

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