The evolution of Ravens safety Geno Stone: ‘Every time I get put into situations, good things happen’

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It was late in the third quarter and the Ravens were clinging to a five-point lead in what was an all-too-familiar scenario.

Four minutes earlier, safety Kyle Hamilton had been ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Titans wide receiver Chris Moore. The personal foul moved Tennessee to the Ravens’ 15-yard line, and one play later Derrick Henry dashed through a gaping hole on the left, bounced outside, flicked safety Marcus Williams off him like a gnat and cruised into the end zone. In less than 30 seconds Sunday, the Ravens had gone from a comfortable cushion to the precipice of blowing another double-digit lead to an inferior opponent.

Going back to last season, six of their past nine losses — including two this year — had come in games in which they led by at least 10 points.

As the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry rumbled into the end zone, the last player to get a hit on him was safety Geno Stone, who’d raced across the field from the back side of the play and lowered his shoulder at the 1-yard line. By that point, there was little the 5-foot-11, 210-pound fourth-year safety — or anyone else — could do to stop Henry, but Stone would get his revenge.

With the Titans facing a third-and-1 from the Ravens’ 48-yard line on their next possession, quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a deep pass down the right side to tight end and former Maryland standout Chigoziem Okonkwo, who’d gotten behind cornerback Marlon Humphrey. But Stone was helping over the top, and with his eyes on the quarterback broke as soon as the ball left Tannehill’s hand. After he intercepted the pass at the 20, he cut back toward the middle and weaved his way 24 yards before being tackled.

“I really didn’t expect him to throw it,” Stone said. “But as soon as he released, I just wanted to go get the ball. I just let my instincts take over.”

The turnover squashed the Titans’ comeback bid and swung momentum back to the Ravens, who added two more field goals and went on to win, 24-16, in London.

“I feel like every time I get put into situations, good things happen,” Stone said. “It’s not a good thing when people go down, but I feel like it’s a testament to the personnel, scouts, everyone … that wherever we get plugged in, we’re going to make the same plays that the starters would make.”

That is particularly true of Stone.

A seventh-round draft pick out of Iowa in 2020, the 24-year-old is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with three after recording just one in his first three years in the league. He has also proved valuable amid a slew of injuries to the Ravens’ secondary this season. That included Sunday, with Hamilton already out of the game when he made the interception and Williams suffering a hamstring injury on the play. Williams did not return, leaving Stone as the team’s lone true safety.

“[It was] such a big play,” coach John Harbaugh said of the interception. “Geno has had a couple big ones so far this year. That was a huge play.”

And just the latest by the unheralded Stone.

In Week 2 in Cincinnati, the Ravens were again holding a slim lead, up 13-10 early in the third quarter with the Bengals threatening on Baltimore’s 17. Cincinnati lined up in a four-receiver set with Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Trenton Irwin wide right and Ja’Marr Chase wide left. The Ravens showed a two-high safety look with Stone on Chase’s half of the field and Hamilton on the other half. But when the ball was snapped, they dropped into Cover 4, a zone defense in which two safeties and two cornerbacks cover the deep zones of the field. As Joe Burrow dropped back to pass, he glanced in Chase’s direction but Stone stayed put; when the quarterback came off him to Higgins, who was alone in the end zone, Stone made his break. About 13 yards away from the receiver, according to Next Gen Stats, Stone zoomed in and undercut the route, intercepting the ball at the 2.

“A really good play by him, good disguise,” Burrow said of Stone.

Added Bengals coach Zac Taylor: “Geno Stone made a great play with the pick. … It’s a veteran safety making a good play.”

It’s been one of many.

Before this season, Stone’s only other career interception came two years ago when he picked off a lollipop throw by Ben Roethlisberger in the regular-season finale. Coming into the game against the Titans, however, he was the sixth-highest-graded safety in the NFL in pass coverage by Pro Football Focus. Opposing quarterback’s passer rating against Stone was 23.1. He had just one missed tackle and his overall PFF grade has steadily improved every year.

After racking up 21 and 38 tackles the past two seasons, respectively, he’s already up to 26 through six games this year, all while continuing to contribute on special teams.

He has also proved that he can be an every-down player at safety. When Williams suffered a pectoral injury in the season opener against the Houston Texans and missed the next three games, Stone took his place, just as he did in 2022 when he started seven games to fill in for Williams when he dislocated his wrist. When Hamilton was ejected Sunday, he again filled in more than admirably, making sure another game didn’t slip away.

Stone even remembered this time to cut back inside after intercepting Tannehill, something he didn’t do on the Burrow interception and caught friendly grief about from teammates after not returning it for a touchdown.

“I think a few guys missed some blocks, I’m going to say that,” he said of his latest interception. “I’m trying to get to the end zone. … but I tell them, ‘At least I’m catching the ball.’ That’s all I care about.”

And the Ravens are glad, if not fortunate, to have Stone.

In just over three seasons, he has gone from a practice squad player, to being waived and claimed by the Houston Texans his rookie year, to re-signing with Baltimore in 2021 after the Texans didn’t extend him a qualifying offer, to being a valuable member of one of the league’s best defenses. The Ravens have allowed the fourth-fewest passing yards this season, are allowing an NFL-low 4.5 yards per pass attempt and are tied for a league-low four touchdowns allowed through the air.

“I try to go out there every day, earn my respect, show what I can do in this league with my play,” Stone said. “I’ve been doing a great job at it, and now I’m going to continue to build on that. So I look forward to getting back, enjoying this dub with my team and getting back to Baltimore. I’m kind of tired.”

Week 7

Lions at Ravens

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 45

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 3


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