Sunday’s opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, has gotten a good deal of attention for injecting its receiving corps with a good deal of speed.
The Ravens have taken notice, but their strategy heading into Sunday’s season opener for the AFC North rivals remains unchanged.
“We just play the same,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “It’s about technique and playing ball. Most wide receivers in the league have speed, and most teams draft receivers because of their 40 time. Most of the people we guard run a 4.3. If you’ve got a 4.2, it’s a little bit different, but you have to respect everybody’s speed. Everybody’s fast. We just have to play ball and know what they love to do.”
Added seven-time Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed: “We have to do our job, and that job is to slow those guys down, keep them out of the end zone, and cover them. We’ve got fast guys around here, too. The only disadvantage for the defense is, for the secondary guys, we’re moving backwards at the start. But it’s part of the game. We knew that. We signed up for it. And we’re definitely ready for the mission.”
Three of Pittsburgh’s top four receivers are blessed with fleet feet. According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mike Wallace runs a 4.3 40, Emmanuel Sanders a 4.4, and Antonio Brown a 4.47.
The Ravens aren’t exactly shabby in the speed department either. Cary Williams has run a 4.43 40, Webb was clocked at 4.46 at the 2009 NFL Combine, and rookie Jimmy Smith runs a 4.47.
Smith said one method of neutralizing the Steelers’ speed is being physical with them at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the start and rhythm with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“Try to get your hands on them so that they’re not running freely,” Smith said. “When they’re running freely, that’s when their speed really matters. They can run through zones if nobody is touching them. But if you put your hands on them, that slows them down.”
Several Ravens cornerbacks pointed out that Wallace, Brown and Sanders are also good route runners, which makes their tasks even more difficult. Containing those three could be key to determining Sunday’s outcome.
“It’s tough, but we’ve got fast guys out there,” coach John Harbaugh. “We defend deep passes all the time. The challenge will be to defend it.”