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Ravens news and notes on Jimmy Smith, Justin Tucker and more

Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium.
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

If you would have asked me last week about what player the Ravens could least afford to lose for an extended period of time, quarterback Joe Flacco would have headed my list.

That's the obvious choice. But probably my second choice would be cornerback Jimmy Smith, who will now be out for several weeks after he sprained his left foot in the Ravens' loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

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Smith has been the Ravens' best and most consistent defensive player this season, and he was playing as well as any cornerback in the league.

The Ravens had the offensive line depth to withstand injuries to both Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele. Tight end Dennis Pitta and now Owen Daniels were big losses, but Flacco has other targets to offset some of their production. Losing Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil obviously would sting, but the Ravens are pretty deep at outside linebacker. But cornerback?

Not only do they severely lack quality depth at the position, they have no corners on their roster that can match Smith's combination of size, speed and physicality. And that looms large when the Ravens will have to defend against Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in three of their next four games.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh would say only that Smith will miss a "few weeks." The expectation is that Smith will miss Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the following week's game against the Tennessee Titans. Then, the Ravens have their bye week.

After that, the Ravens' next game isn't until Nov. 24 against Brees and the New Orleans Saints. That would give Smith about four weeks of recovery before the Saints game. Will that be enough?

That's tough to say, and it's not prudent to speculate on somebody's medical condition without knowing the exact details of what Smith is dealing with. But it goes without saying that the Ravens badly need him.

So, to review, when the Ravens face the Steelers on Sunday night, they'll probably be without their top two tight ends (Pitta and Daniels), two of their top three cornerbacks (Smith and Asa  Jackson), an emerging reserve receiver (Michael Campanaro) and a starting defensive end (Chris Canty).

And that's not even mentioning season-ending injuries to long snapper Morgan Cox, defensive linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore and Brent Urban and cornerback Aaron Ross, among others. Every team is dealing with injuries, and the Ravens have certainly had their fair share this year.

Those injuries, the ongoing Ray Rice saga, Torrey Smith's disappointing first half and the fact that the Ravens have gotten pretty much nothing from Bernard Pierce, Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown does put their 5-3 record in a different light.

Three things that I liked in the Bengals' game:

1. Justin Tucker going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and hitting from 45, 50 and 53 yards.

It shows how much confidence Harbaugh and the coaching staff has in Tucker that they sent him on the field for the 53-yard attempt, because if he had missed, the Bengals would have gotten the ball back in good field position with the score tied late in the fourth quarter.

But Tucker rarely misses. He's hit 86 of 95 field-goal attempts in his career and remains one of the league's best.

2. Haloti Ngata's signature play was the strip sack of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton that set up the Ravens' go-ahead score. But he was a force throughout, finishing with eight tackles and a sack.

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It might have been Ngata's best game in a couple of seasons.

3. Rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro had nine total touches (seven rushes and two receptions) and finished with 69 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.

He also made a statement that he is the Ravens' best option in the red zone, scoring from 10- and 8-yards out.

Justin Forsett, meanwhile, continues to make plays, but he should have scored on that third-down play in the first quarter before the Ravens were ultimately stopped on foruth-and-goal from the one. There appeared to be a hole there, but Forsett was unable to find it.

Three things that I didn't like:

1. Even before Torrey Smith was shaken up on Flacco's third-quarter interception, he was a nonfactor in the passing game. Several times Flacco looked in his direction but didn't feel like Smith was open, so he threw elsewhere.

Smith really struggled against Cincinnati's physical press coverage, which has given him issues throughout his career. He did miss about a quarter, but Smith is far too talented to be held without a catch.

Flacco also shouldn't be excused for his poor decision making and his continued struggles against the Bengals

2. I've been asked several times why rookie safety Terrence Brooks, who was beaten along with Dominique Franks by Mohamed Sanu on a 53-yard reception on the Bengals' game-winning scoring drive, was in the game and not Will Hill.

It's an interesting question considering many have been clamoring for Brooks to play a lot more.

Unfortunately, I don't have the answer, nor can I explain why Hill played so few snaps. Hill obviously is still getting up to speed with the Ravens' defense and working off some rust, but he remains the most talented safety on the roster. I suspect we'll see more of him against the Steelers.

3. I can't decide between poor tackling on the back end, Franks' play or the struggles of the wide receivers to get open, so I'll mention them all and leave it at that. The Ravens weren't out-muscled consistently at the line of scrimmage. Both groups held up reasonably well. But they were on the outside on both offense and defense.

Undoubtedly, the outside focus all week will be on Roethlisberger and how he follows up his 522-yard passing day and how the Ravens and their vulnerable secondary will contain him.

But I still think the Ravens' focus will be on Steelers' running back Le'Veon Bell. Everybody knows what Roethlisberger is capable of, and Antonio Brown is an elite receiver by any measure.

But Bell is the guy that makes that offense go, and he's hurt the Ravens in the past, averaging 114 all-purpose yards in three games against them.

Stop the run first, and then worry about getting after Roethlisberger, will be a common refrain this week.

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