With­out J. Smith, sec­ondary burned

Dal­las’ Bryant, Prescott take ad­van­tage vs. cor­ner­backs Wright, Young, Pow­ers

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec jeff.zre­biec@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jef­fzre­biec­sun

ARLINGTON, TEXAS — The Ravens tried hard not to make ex­cuses, but they knew it was painfully ob­vi­ous. As Dal­las Cow­boys rookie quar­ter­back Dak Prescott dis­sected their de­fense and found mis­matches around the field, the Ravens were badly miss­ing their top cor­ner­back, Jimmy Smith.

Smith was in­ac­tive be­cause of a back in­jury, and Prescott took ad­van­tage, com­plet­ing 27 of 36 passes for 301 yards, three touch­downs and no in­ter­cep­tions in the Cow­boys’ 27-17 vic­tory over the Ravens on Sun­day at AT&T Sta­dium. The Cow­boys’ top re­ceiver, Dez Bryant, who likely would have been shad­owed by Smith, had lit­tle trou­ble with smaller and less phys­i­cal cor­ner­backs Sha­reece Wright and Tavon Young. Bryant caught six passes for 80 yards and two scores.

“We got guys who are ca­pa­ble and we got to put our best play­ers on the field. Down the stretch, we def­i­nitely need our war­riors,” Ravens rush line­backer Ter­rell Suggs said. “We need dogs. Not only in the sec­ondary, but ev­ery­where. If we’re go­ing to fight for our play­off lives, you want your big­gest horses run­ning the Ken­tucky Derby.”

Suggs said he be­lieved Smith was go­ing to play, but the vet­eran cor­ner­back never re­cov­ered enough af­ter miss­ing prac­tice Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day and work­ing on a lim­ited ba­sis Fri­day. It was the first full game Smith missed this sea­son, al­though he was forced out late in the sec­ond quar­ter of the loss Oct. 16 to the New York Giants be­cause of con­cus­sion symp­toms.

As the Giants’ Odell Beck­ham Jr. did to the Ravens’ pass de­fense in Smith’s ab­sence, Bryant vic­tim­ized a sec­ondary that strug­gled to deal with his size and phys­i­cal­ity. He got in­side po­si­tion and out-mus­cled Wright on his 4-yard touch­down catch that gave the Cow­boys a 17-10 lead mid­way through the third quar­ter.

He then beat Young on a slant early in the fourth quar­ter and ba­si­cally car­ried the rookie into the end zone for a 13-yard score.

“Ob­vi­ously it’s big and it hurts us,” safety Eric Wed­dle said of Smith’s in­jury. “Through­out the week, we got a sense that he wasn’t go­ing to be able to play. It wasn’t a shock to us that he wasn’t there. He brings a matchup for us that we can put a guy like Dez and feel con­fi­dent about that matchup or who­ever we’re fac­ing. It’s tough to roll cov­er­age to a guy like Dez, but then you’re wor­ried about the run game and you’re try­ing to stop that. You’re try­ing to stop [Cole] Beasley on third down and leav­ing [Bryant]. It presents a tough Ravens out­side line­backer Ter­rell Suggs can’t keep Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott from throw­ing a sec­ond-quar­ter pass. Prescott was 27for-36 for 301 yards and three touch­downs. “We need dogs,” Suggs said af­ter the game. “Not only in the sec­ondary, but ev­ery­where.” chal­lenge as a de­fense when you don’t have your best cor­ner out there.”

The Ravens pre­fer not us­ing Smith to shadow one re­ceiver. How­ever, they’ve done it in the past against big and phys­i­cal re­ceivers, and Smith has re­sponded by lim­it­ing play­ers such as Bran­don Mar­shall of the New York Jets and Ter­relle Pryor Sr. of the Cleveland Browns.

Bryant is 6 foot 2 and 220 pounds, so he would have been the ideal can­di­date to be shad­owed by Smith, who is 6-2, 210 pounds. But with Smith un­able to go, the Ravens had to rely on the trio of Wright (5-11, 184), Young (5-9, 177) and Jer­raud Pow­ers (5-10, 193).

Bryant’s a “good re­ceiver,” said Wright, who had missed four of the Ravens’ pre­vi­ous five games be­cause of back and ham­string in­juries. “They’re a good team. They’re go­ing to make their plays. We got to make ours.”

Prescott never re­ally came close to get­ting in­ter­cepted, com­plet­ing 14 of his 15 pass­ing at­tempts in the sec­ond half. With the Ravens try­ing to take away big plays and hom­ing in on the Cow­boys’ Ezekiel El­liott-led run­ning game, and with the pass rush be­ing nonex­is­tent for the fi­nal 21⁄ quar­ters, Prescott used the short pass­ing game to move the ball down the field at will.

Ravens coach John Har­baugh in­di­cated that the de­fen­sive game plan wouldn’t have changed if Smith had been ac­tive, and the team would have still played sin­gle cov­er­age. Al­ways ad­her­ing to the “next man up phi­los­o­phy,” Har­baugh didn’t lament Smith’s ab­sence.

How­ever, it went with­out say­ing that the Ravens would have felt a lot bet­ter about con­tain­ing Bryant if Smith had been on the field.

“It prob­a­bly wasn’t the best de­ci­sion if you look at it right now, but you’ve also got to stop the run,” Har­baugh said when asked about play­ing sin­gle cov­er­age on Bryant. “That’s the is­sue that they present to you as an of­fense. We played a lot of split-safety cov­er­age, too. We were in two-deep cov­er­age a lot, es­pe­cially on first and sec­ond down. More of the sin­gle cov­er­age came some­times on third down, third-and-medium, third-and-short, and they can still run the ball.”

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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