Hop­ing Smith makes his re­turn

Sec­ondary has ad­justed to phys­i­cal cor­ner­back’s ab­sence the past two games with mixed re­sults

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS & NFL - By Ed­ward Lee ed­ward.lee@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Ed­wardLeeSun

Prac­ti­cally ev­ery NFL coach will tell you that one player does not make or break a foot­ball team. That holds true for the Ravens, but mem­bers of the sec­ondary are not shy about wish­ing for the re­turn of cor­ner­back Jimmy Smith from a nag­ging back in­jury.

“He’s the No. 1 cor­ner on this team,” fel­low cor­ner­back Sha­reece Wright said. “He is Jimmy Smith. So when­ever he’s not on the field, his [ab­sence] is felt. He’s a phys­i­cal guy, and he matches up well against cer­tain guys. He has an ad­van­tage that a lot of guys don’t have. We’re a lot bet­ter when Jimmy’s on the field.”

The Ravens are 1-1 in their past two games with­out Smith. In a 27-17 loss to the Dal­las Cow­boys on Nov. 20, the de­fen­sive back­field let rookie quar­ter­back Dak Prescott com­plete 27 of 36 passes for 301 yards and three touch­downs. Wide re­ceiver Dez Bryant took par­tic­u­lar ad­van­tage of the 6-foot-2 Smith’s ab­sence, catch­ing six passes for 80 yards and two scores.

In Sun­day’s 19-14 win over the Cincin­nati Ben­gals, quar­ter­back Andy Dal­ton con­nected on 26 of 48 throws for 283 yards and one touch­down, but clearly missed the pres­ence of wide re­ceiver A.J. Green, who was out with a right ham­string in­jury.

Still, coach John Har­baugh liked what he saw from the sec­ondary against the Ben­gals.

“They did a much bet­ter job of ad­just­ing this week than the week be­fore,” Har­baugh said. “Guys played bet­ter. We covered tighter. We were more ag­gres­sive. I just liked the men­tal­ity way bet­ter back there this week than last week. The tech­nique was much bet­ter.”

In­de­pen­dent anal­y­sis would seem to sup­port Har­baugh’s con­tention. Af­ter Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus had sin­gled out Wright and rookie Tavon Young for sur­ren­der­ing 14 catches on 17 tar­gets for 170 yards and two scores against the Cow­boys, the an­a­lyt­i­cal web­site praised Young and Lar­dar­ius Webb for break­ing up three passes while per­mit­ting 10 catches for just 97 yards against the Ben­gals.

Webb’s day was event­ful. Af­ter mak­ing his 11th con­sec­u­tive start at free safety, he shifted to nickel back in the sec­ond half while Jer­raud Pow­ers stood on the side­line. But Webb said his move The Ravens’ Eric Wed­dle in­ter­cepts a pass in­tended for the Browns’ Ter­relle Pryor Sr., left, who is covered by cor­ner­back Jimmy Smith. Smith has missed two games with a nag­ging back in­jury. to nickel back was part of a pack­age the de­fense had been work­ing on.

“We just switched some things up,” he said. “Dif­fer­ent calls, try­ing to con­fuse Dal­ton. I feel like we did a good job.”

Shift­ing Webb to nickel back meant Matt Elam filled in at free safety. Af­ter play­ing pri­mar­ily on spe­cial teams in the pre­vi­ous three games, Elam pa­trolled the back end with strong safety Eric Wed­dle.

“They were bring­ing me in on sub and try­ing to get me go­ing,” said Elam, who sat out the first seven games of the sea­son af­ter knee surgery in Au­gust. “It was my fourth game back. So I’m get­ting into the groove, start­ing to feel well, start­ing to get healthy. I guess they’re giv­ing me the op­por­tu­nity.”

Wed­dle said he did not no­tice much of a dif­fer­ence when Elam stepped in for Webb.

“We’re mov­ing guys around, guys that maybe haven’t prac­ticed all week in cer­tain po­si­tions, but you’ve got to credit Webby,” Wed­dle said. “I thought he played re­ally well for go­ing down and play­ing nickel. Elo came in. We kept ev­ery­thing in front of us. We made plays when we needed to make them, and we played team de­fense. That’s what it’s go­ing to come down to.”

While the moves re­sulted in a positive out­come against the Ben­gals, the Ravens would be best served if Smith is able to re­turn Sun­day against the Mi­ami Dol­phins. Ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, Prescott and Dal­ton en­joyed a col­lec­tive passer rat­ing of 114.2, while the nine pre­vi­ous quar­ter­backs had a com­bined passer rat­ing of 90.5 against the Ravens.

In par­tic­u­lar, Prescott and Dal­ton tar­geted Wright in Smith’s usual right cor­ner­back spot. Wright has al­lowed 10 catches for 151yards and one touch­down and a quar­ter­back rat­ing of 121.8 when play­ing right cor­ner­back, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus.

Webb de­fended his team­mates’ play.

“We’d love to have our lock­down cor­ner­back. He’s a big part of our de­fense,” Webb said. “But the other guys, they’re step­ping up and com­pet­ing. That’s all we can ask for. Tavon’s play­ing good, Sha­reece is in there fight­ing, and that’s what we need.”

Har­baugh was some­what en­cour­aged that Smith ran Satur­day.

“He’s close,” Har­baugh said. “He’s been able to run for about a week, so we’ll see.”

But Har­baugh said he wants to see the sec­ondary play the way it did against the Ben­gals re­gard­less of whether Smith is able to re­turn.

“They played with more con­fi­dence. That is how they should play,” Har­baugh said. “We have good play­ers. We have a num­ber of guys that can cover back there, and I would like to see them play into their ca­pa­bil­i­ties, which they did a much bet­ter job of [Sun­day].”

The sched­ule won’t get much eas­ier for the Ravens, who will clash with three top-10 pass­ing at­tacks — those of the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots (No. 6), the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers (No. 8), and the Ben­gals (No. 10) — in their last five games of the reg­u­lar sea­son. While the Dol­phins might not have a su­per­star like Green or Bryant or the Steel­ers’ An­to­nio Brown, they do have a more-thanser­vice­able trio in Jarvis Landry (64 re­cep­tions for 733 yards and two touch­downs), De­Vante Parker (41-549-2) and Kenny Stills (26-480-5).

As much as the de­fense would love to have Smith back, Wright said the onus is on the play­ers who are healthy and ac­tive to keep things in or­der un­til he re­turns.

“We need more than one guy or more than two or more than three in this league,” Wright said. “When we get deep into those play­offs and we’re play­ing a team like New Eng­land, we’re go­ing to need ev­ery­body.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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