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Replacing Webb won't be easy for Ravens

Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb tackles Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins during the Ravens' win over the Bengals in Baltimore Sept. 10.
Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb tackles Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins during the Ravens' win over the Bengals in Baltimore Sept. 10. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

OWINGS MILLS - He was the team's top cover man, a proven commodity in run support and even a contributor as a pass rusher.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb did a little bit of everything for the Ravens' defense.

But now, the defense will need to move on without him.

It won't be easy.

Webb was placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday after tearing the ACL in his left knee during Sunday's win against the Dallas Cowboys.

"To me, Lardarius, he'd become one of the premier corners in the league," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I'm biased. I'd say he's the best. ... I wouldn't take anybody over Lardarius Webb."

Webb had 25 tackles and one interception in Baltimore's first five games.

He had 67 tackles and five interceptions last season and added three more interceptions in two playoff games.

His nine interceptions since the start of the 2011 season (including playoffs) are tied for the most of any player during that span.

"Webb's the type of guy you could put him on the inside and guard the guys on the inside, or you could put him on the outside and he could be locked up on the guys on the outside," Ravens tight end Ed Dickson said. "He's a very versatile [defensive back] and had become a top corner in this league. It's tough to lose a guy like that."

Yet, even with Webb, the Ravens' pass defense had struggled with quarterbacks mostly opting to avoid Webb in favor of throwing at other members of Baltimore's pass defense.

The Ravens' pass defense is ranked 22nd out of the NFL's 32 teams, yielding an average of 260 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks.

Second-year player Jimmy Smith will take Webb's place in the starting lineup opposite incumbent starter Cary Williams. Corey Graham will step in as the nickel back and Harbaugh noted that second-year player Chykie Brown and rookie Asa Jackson will be in the mix for playing time as well.

"Webb's a great player, and it's a loss, a tough loss," Baltimore safety James Ihedigbo said. "But what determines the success of teams in this league is the ability to pick up the pieces and have other guys step up and make plays."

Dickson expressed confidence in both Williams and Smith to help the Ravens do that.

Williams struggled early, but has interceptions in three straight games.

Smith was Baltimore's first round pick in last year's NFL draft.

"They're long bodies, and they use what they have," Dickson said of the 6-foot-1 Williams and the 6-foot-2 Smith. "Jimmy can be a physical corner. He's very tall, taller than Webb, and Cary as well. Both of those guys are physical, very physical, and they have a longer reach, so if they're getting beat on a play, they have good makeup speed and can use those long arms to bat balls down.

"With those types of corners, you can leave them out there on an island and play a little more man-to-man and do some things with them that you can't do with other guys. I feel really confident in those two guys."

And both have shown signs of improvement throughout the course of the season.

Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant had 13 catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, but averaged barely more than seven yards per catch. Former Pro Bowler Miles Austin was limited to 31 yards on two catches and emerging playmaker Kevin Ogletree was held without a catch.

The combination of Williams and Smith will be tested Sunday, though, as the Ravens travel to face the Houston Texans.

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is a two-time 4,000 yard passer and Andre Johnson is considered one of the NFL's top wide receivers.

Johnson leads Houston with 358 yards on 25 catches and has two touchdowns.

He's one of four Houston pass-catchers with at least 15 catches.

"Obviously, everyone knows that Andre Johnson is a top-ranked receiver in the league and [No.] 83, [Kevin] Walter, I think he's really, really good," Smith said. "He's been in the league a long time and knows how to get the job done. They're both big, physical receivers, so I think we definitely have our hands full with these receivers."

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