Stop­ping WR Brown a key job for Ravens

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS WEEK­END - Jeff.zre­biec@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jef­fzre­biec­sun

Un­like many other teams, the Ravens have had mod­est suc­cess over the years in at least con­tain­ing the pro­lific Brown, who­has av­er­aged 125 catches and more than 10 touch­down re­cep­tions over the past three sea­sons, and is on pace for a 110-catch, 1,353-yard sea­son this year. The Ravens’ abil­ity to beat the Steel­ers on Sun­day at M&T Bank Sta­dium and break a four-game los­ing streak will hinge partly on that trend con­tin­u­ing.

In13 ca­reer matchups against the Ravens, in­clud­ing two play­off games, Brown has av­er­aged five catches and 65.5 re­ceiv­ing yards, and he has just one touch­down. The Ravens have used a va­ri­ety of de­fen­sive looks against Brown, which have in­cluded hav­ing Smith, the sixth-year cor­ner­back, fol­low­ing the re­ceiver wher­ever he lines up.

Smith and Brown, who­ex­pressed mu­tual re­spect for each other Wed­nes­day, both said they’d wel­come that chal­lenge, but the de­ci­sion is out of their hands.

“That’s not my call. It’s the de­fen­sive coach­ing staff’s call,” Smith said Wed­nes­day. “When­ever they call my name, that’s where I’ll play. I’ve matched up on him be­fore and there are games where I haven’t matched up on him. It’s what­ever the coaches want.”

The de­ci­sion on whether to de­ploy the top cor­ner­back on the op­po­si­tion’s top re­ceiver is viewed dif­fer­ently around the NFL. In 2014, New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick of­ten used his top cor­ner, Dar­relle Re­vis, on op­po­nents’ No. 2 wide re­ceiver. The think­ing was Re­vis could sin­gle-hand­edly elim­i­nate one op­tion, and the Pa­tri­ots could then dou­ble-team the op­po­nent’s top guy.

Wash­ing­ton Red­skins coach Jay Gru­den was widely crit­i­cized after his team’s 38-16 sea­son-open­ing loss to the Steel­ers for not hav­ing his shut­down cor­ner­back, Josh Nor­man, shadow Brown. The Steel­ers wide re­ceiver fin­ished with eight catches, 126 yards and two touch­downs.

Gru­den has since had Nor­man match up with the New York Giants’ Odell Beck­ham Jr. and the Cincin­nati Ben­gals’ A.J. Green.

“We didn’t travel much with An­to­nio be­cause he lined up in the back­field, he lined up in the slot and was all over the place. They were go­ing no-hud­dle, so it was eas­ier for us to be right and left,” Gru­den said in a con­fer­ence call with Bal­ti­more­area re­porters be­fore his team’s Oct. 9 matchup against the Ravens. “Some teams you can; some teams you can’t. It does Cor­ner­back Jimmy Smith has given up 25 re­cep­tions for 253 yards and two touch­downs on 39 tar­gets this year. present chal­lenges.”

Many coaches and play­ers would pre­fer to avoid shad­ow­ing the top re­ceiver be­cause it can cause prob­lems on the de­fen­sive side, es­pe­cially with a player such as Brown, whom the Steel­ers move around. The cor­ner­backs have to re­act quickly to find their matchups, and that of­ten leads to con­fu­sion and the de­fense be­ing un­set­tled be­fore the snap.

Also, one de­fen­sive back fol­low­ing a re­ceiver ev­ery­where tends to tip off the of­fense as to what cov­er­age the de­fense is in.

“It’s like, ‘OK, ev­ery time I line a guy up there and that same DB lines up there,’ they’ve got com­put­ers, too,” Pees said. “They look at it and say, ‘If that guy lines up in slot, they’re in man cov­er­age.’ You have to be able to mix and match zones and man. There’s a lot more to it than eas­ily stat­ing, ‘Let’s put our DB against their best re­ceiver.”

Said Smith: “If you’re not in man-to-man, it kind of de­feats the pur­pose of match­ing up.”

Ravens veteran safety Eric Wed­dle said ear­lier this sea­son that he prefers not hav­ing the team’s cor­ners match­ing up.

“You just have a lot of mov­ing parts,” he said. “It just messes you up more than it can be good. We have con­fi­dence in both of our cor­ners and sub guys. We just game-plan; we’ll play our de­fense and let the of­fense ad­just off that.”

This year, Smith has shad­owed the Buf­falo Bills’ Sammy Watkins and the New York Jets’ Bran­don Mar­shall, but the Ravens did not use him through­out the game to match up with the Jack­sonville Jaguars’ Allen Robin­son or the Oak­land Raiders’ Amari Cooper.

Ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, Smith has given up 25 re­cep­tions for 253 yards and two touch­downs on 39 tar­gets this year. Quar­ter­backs have a 99.6 rat­ing when throw­ing his way.

“Ob­vi­ously, he is a big, long, rangy guy,” Brown said of Smith. “He has al­ways been play­ing at a high level all the time. He is al­ways highly com­pet­i­tive and al­ways go­ing to stick the best re­ceiver. You have to pay a lot of re­spect to a guy like Jimmy for all he does and come out and com­pete and cover the best man on ev­ery guy’s team week to week.”

Smith, who is 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds and plays a phys­i­cal style, ac­knowl­edges that he prefers match­ing up with big­ger re­ceivers, such as the Jets’ Mar­shall, who is 6-4 and 230 pounds. Mar­shall had only two catches for 18 yards when matched up di­rectly with Smith two weeks ago.

At 5-10 and 181 pounds, Brown presents a dif­fer­ent set of chal­lenges for a big­ger cor­ner such as Smith.

“For a guy of his size, he’s like one of the big­gest chal­lenges in the NFL. We know what he does. You all know. It’s go­ing to be a lot to con­tain him and [run­ning back Le’Veon Bell],” Smith said. “Bran­don [Mar­shall] is ob­vi­ously a big guy who is go­ing to go up [on] jump balls. With An­to­nio, his is more catch-and-run, catch a slant on you and take it 60. That’s his game.”

Smith, who ob­vi­ously wouldn’t re­veal whether he’ll be matched up against Brown on Sun­day, said the coaches will typ­i­cally tell him ear­lier in the week whether he’s go­ing to be match­ing up in the up­com­ing game. That gives him an op­por­tu­nity to home in on one re­ceiver dur­ing his film study. By now, though, there should be no se­crets with Brown.

“The game plan is ob­vi­ously di­rected to­wards him,” Smith said. “We’re do­ing what we’re sup­posed to do if we keep him with min­i­mal yards and min­i­mal catches.”

KARL MER­TON FER­RON/BALTIMORE SUN

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