Remember when third-year cornerback Jimmy Smith was viewed as one of the primary concerns of the Ravens’ defense? You should. It was only about two months ago. Now, a case could be made that Smith has consistently been one of the Ravens’ best defensive players over the past six or seven weeks. He certainly has to be their most improved player. Smith battled all afternoon in the Ravens’ 23-20 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, helping to hold All-Pro wide receiver Brandon Marshall to four catches for 42 yards. Smith had four tackles and broke up two passes, and according to Pro Football Focus, allowed just four catches for 25 yards on passes thrown in his direction. Over the Ravens’ last five games, Pro Football Focus has Smith being targeted 23 times, but only 12 of those balls have been caught for 131 yards and no touchdowns. When you consider Smith allowed six catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in the season-opening loss to the Denver Broncos, you can see how far he’s come. While Smith will continue to get tested -- and I’m sure there will be some good and bad moments ahead, like there are for all young cornerbacks -- my guess is the Ravens will look back in a couple months and consider Smith’s emergence as one of the season’s most encouraging developments.
Just as a side note somewhat related to Smith, I loved how referee Gene Steratore’s crew allowed some contact between wide receivers and defensive backs Sunday. There were a few pass interference or defensive holding calls, but a lot of stuff was let go, allowing the players to decide the outcome rather than penalty flags. The Ravens obviously wanted an interference call on Bears cornerback Zack Bowman, who held Tandon Doss on the third-down incompletion that resulted in a punt on the first possession of overtime. However, Smith, Lardarius Webb and Corey Graham had gotten away with similar contact on Bears receivers most of the game. I’d much rather see the game officiated like that than for officials to call every little thing on cornerbacks, who have a hard enough job as it is.
I can’t speak for injured tight end Dennis Pitta, nor would it be fair if I tried. I also want to point out that Pitta hasn’t spoken to the media since he suffered the hip dislocation in training camp, so it’s impossible for us to truly know how or what he is feeling. However, we do know that Pitta hasn’t resumed practicing yet, meaning his return to game action isn’t imminent. Because of that, it’s fair to wonder how the results of the Ravens’ next couple of games could impact his potential return. The Ravens are set to embark on a stretch in which they have three games in 15 days. If they fall out of the playoff race during that stretch, could that lead to Pitta shutting his comeback for the season and opting instead to continue to strengthen his hip and make sure he is ready for 2014? Or does Pitta, who will be a free agent at season’s end, want to play regardless and show the Ravens and every other NFL team that he is healthy and deserving of a lucrative long-term contract? I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I do think it’s a situation worth following. I think everybody knew that the Ravens would miss Pitta, but I’m not sure anybody expected his absence to have this significant of an effect.
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I’ve talked about the similarities between Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning before in terms of their inconsistent play, their success late in games and their stoic demeanor. But check out the similarities in this year’s numbers by the last two Super Bowl Most Valuable Players.
Name / Comp.-Att.-Pct / Yds / TDs / INTs / Lost fumbles / QB rating / Record
Joe Flacco / 221-377-58.6 / 2,469 / 13 / 13 / 2 / 75.3 / 4-6
Eli Manning / 208-364-57.1 / 2,586 / 12 / 17 / 2 / 70.8 / 4-6
Strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil has nine sacks, a total that Ravens fans would probably have been satisfied with at this point of the season. However, Dumervil has sort of been feast-or-famine lately. He’s gotten five of his nine sacks in two games. In two of the Ravens’ last three games, he doesn’t have a sack or even a tackle. Dumervil plays primarily on passing downs, so his tackle numbers don’t mean a great deal. The Ravens paid him to hit the quarterback, a job that he’s done well. However, it’s never a good sign when Dumervil is getting talked about more for the penalties he commits -- as was the case against the Bears last week and the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple of weeks earlier -- than the plays that he makes. The bet here is he bounces back and causes some problems Sunday against the Jets.
After hearing for weeks about how they couldn’t run the football, the Ravens looked a bit relieved to gain 174 rushing yards and average 4.2-yards per carry against the Bears. But it’s probably worth holding off for a week before declaring that their running game is back. The Bears rank 31stin the NFL, allowing 133.9 rushing yards per game. The Jets rank first, surrendering just 73.2 rushing yards per game. Any production on the ground this Sunday will be a lot more telling than what happened versus the Bears.
Here’s a stat you’ll probably be seeing plenty of this week: the Jets have committed 21 turnovers this year and 20 of them have been by rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who has tossed 16 interceptions and lost four fumbles. Jets coach Rex Ryan said Monday that Smith, who turned the ball over four times against the Buffalo Bills a day earlier, remains his starter. However, I can’t imagine Ryan will have too much patience with the rookie on Sunday.