The next challenge for the Ravens’ exhausted secondary? Rams star Cooper Kupp, NFL’s best receiver. – twin cities

This Ravens secondary has not turned out as expected, but think if it had. Imagine if the Ravens were not last in the NFL in passing defense. Imagine if they had Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters and DeShon Elliott. Imagine they even have a few extra days to prepare for the Los Angeles Rams, to study every route run by all-alt wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

Chances are, Kupp would still find a way to open Sunday in Baltimore. Two weeks ago, all he and quarterback Matthew Stafford needed in their ever-evolving air attack was just a half-speed training repeat.

At some point before the Rams (11-4) traveled to Seattle in Week 15, Kupp reviewed a passing game they had only run in one review. It was “a little hairy there for a second,” Stafford recalled Wednesday to local reporters, but he suggested adjusting Kupp’s route the next time they drove it.

When Rams coach Sean McVay called the same game in the red zone against the Seahawks, with Seattle leading 10-3 in the third quarter, Stafford and Kupp recognized the defense. It was the same look that had made things hairy in the review. Easy enough: Coup, lined up in the castle, forged a breakout route, cut inside and stopped his route near the front of the end zone, between two Seahawks linebackers rotating over. Stafford tracked Kupp’s route as if he had driven it 100 times.

“Hey, just like we thought,” he recalled joking with Kupp after their 6-yard touchdown in the Rams’ final 20-10 victory. That’s how easy it can be for the NFL’s best wide receiver. And that’s what will make Sunday so difficult for the ravens who asked to cover him.

A week after allows a franchise-worst 575 yards in an emptied 41-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens (8-7) will likely have to stay out of the NFL’s record books if they want a way into the off-season. Coup, who leads the league in catches (132), yards (1,734) and touchdown receptions (14), needs 18 catches and 231 yards to break Michael Thomas and Calvin Johnson’s single-season records, respectively.

Even with cornerbacks Chris Westry and Jimmy Smith set to return Sunday, Coup – and the threat his mere presence poses – could ruin the Ravens’ defense more than any wide receiver has this season. He’s finished with less than 92 yards in a game just once this year. He wins against zone coverage and man-to-man coverage. He blocks well. “He does everything,” Raven defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said Thursday.

“The biggest challenge is the whole package,” coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “First of all, he and Matthew Stafford have a great understanding of what they can expect from each other. I think they read body language really well because of all the time they’ve had together this year.

“These are just two very talented guys who I think are in a way made for each other if that makes sense. And that offense is certainly built around their connection. So we’ll have to do the best we can with it, and I expect we’ll do well, but it’s going to be a huge challenge. Nobody has stopped those guys yet. ”

It will not help if starting cornerback Anthony Averett, who missed training on Wednesday and Thursday with a chest / rib injury, is unavailable on Sunday. Although he plays, the Ravens’ most important defender is perhaps slot cornerback Tavon Young.

According to Pro Football Focus, Kupp has run 389 routes from the slot machine, the fourth most in the NFL and 66% of his total routes. Over 15 games, he has 84 catches as a slot receiver in 1,201 yards – equivalent to Michael Jackson’s Ravens record in a single season – and nine touchdowns. Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin is the NFL’s second most productive slot receiver with just 722 yards.

“His ability to beat the man cover – not just beat it, but have really good separation on many of these double movements and some of these China routes that he runs and arrow routes where he goes one direction and changes direction – I mean “That’s the big thing, it’s just his change of direction,” NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said of Kupp in an interview Wednesday. “And so I do not know who Wink thinks will be best on him with the blunt room they have right now. ”

It was an easier decision two years ago when Humphrey, Peters and Jimmy Smith missed two combined defensive snaps in a 45-6 demolition of the Rams in Los Angeles. Coup, then a third-year receiver on his way to his first 1,000-yard season, was targeted a game-high 10 times by quarterback Jared Goff, but had only six catches for 35 yards.

Now the Ravens do not have Humphrey or Peters – or Stafford working with the Detroit Lions. Baldinger said the Ravens’ best hope of stopping Kupp could be a confused Stafford, who threw three interceptions and was hit five times in a 30-23 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings.

Blame it on injury or inefficiency, but few of the Ravens’ strategies to stop star widouts have turned out this season. According to Football Outsiders, Ravens ranks No. 25 in the NFL in passing defense against opponents’ No. 1 wide receiver. They finished second in efficiency last year and sixth in 2019.

Even when the Ravens effectively have double-teamed a receiver out of a game, quarterbacks have typically taken advantage elsewhere. With Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill covered in Week 2, Patrick Mahomes passed 343 yards and three touchdowns. With Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams closely monitored in Week 15, Aaron Rodgers selected an exhausted secondary for 268 yards and three touchdowns.

If the ravens take a similar pace on Sunday, their fate may not be so different. Baldinger joked that Stafford is like many amazing quarterbacks: “Their favorite receiver is the open receiver.”

And Kupp stays open. A lot. It does not matter whether he is defended in man coverage (31 catches for 483 yards, according to PFF) or zone (69 catches for 873 yards). Martindale said Kupp plays as if he “lives and breathes and eats football.”

“I think he’s a student of the game,” said Raven’s tight-end Mark Andrews. “I think he’s someone who does a great job every single week of knowing what he’s getting, what he’s going to see, and then he’s just super evasive. You see some of the things he does. does, and it’s like, ‘How does he come up with that? What’s going on in his head to get him to do that kind of move – three different moves – to get himself open?’ “So they do a great job of allowing him to be himself, to have that freedom, and he’s just a beast, man. It’s been fun to see him.”

On Sunday, it will not be difficult to find Coup. He also wants to be the guy that all Ravens defenders keep an eye on.

Week 17

RAMS @ RAVENS

Sunday at 13.00

TV: Ch. 45 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

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