The loss of cornerback Jimmy Smith for the season with a torn Achilles tendon hurts, but it would have been more devastating in recent years.
Unlike then, the Ravens have young talent at cornerback — rookie Marlon Humphrey and second year-player Maurice Canady. They will miss Smith, who was the team’s shutdown cornerback, his loss isn’t necessarily a death sentence.
“He has just got to get more experience, but all the intangibles are there,” Ravens veteran cornerback Brandon Carr said of Humphrey. “He is smart, physical and can run. He is willing to take his lumps and he is going to be OK. Losing Jimmy hurts, but the next guy has to be ready to play.”
Smith ruptured the Achilles with 4:07 left in the second quarter and until that point the Ravens had shut down one of the best offenses in the NFL, holding the Lions to 133 total yards of offense, including just 77 passing.
But in the second half, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 20 straight passes at one point and threw for nearly 220 yards. Two of those were to receiver Marvin Jones Jr., one for 42 yards and another for 46.
In both situations Jones beat Humphrey on jump balls, posting up Humphrey like a power forward outside the paint in basketball.
Should the Ravens be worried?
“I let up two big passes,” said Humphrey, the team’s top pick out of Alabama. “I mean there were other things, small things. But the two big chunk plays I gave up, the two easy ones, just bad eyes on my part and then I panicked a little bit when the ball was in the air.
“When you let up a big play you have to let that go. I let two big ones up today. It was looking pretty rough, but I just played on and got to the next one.”
The Ravens love Humphrey’s confidence and he doesn’t lack in it because he is used to playing in big games at Alabama. When he makes mistakes his shoulders don’t droop. The focus still shows on his face.
During the course of this season, the Ravens have had the luxury of getting him more playing time because they had Smith and Carr. But even before Smith’s injury the Ravens were getting him more repetitions.
Humphrey’s time is now.
“He is a self-starter,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Humphrey. “You don’t have to prod him really, to calm him down, because he is new to it. He’s young, he’s a rookie. You just have to let him know, OK, it’s about the next play. These guys are going to make plays every now and then and you have to play the next play.”
In years past, the loss would have put the Ravens in panic mode. They had players such as Shareece Wright, Rashaan Melvin and Asa Jackson as top backups. Humphrey rebounded with an interception late in the fourth period.
Canady, the team’s sixth-round pick in 2016, is a sleeper. The Ravens liked him a year ago, but he was put on injured reserve after four games with a thigh injury. He was put on injured reserve again from a knee injury in this summer’s training camp, but activated Nov. 3.
His desire to get on the field is stronger than ever.
“I’m hungrier,” Canady said. “It’s is tough watching the other guys play and it made me better because I got a chance to see some things. Marlon and I are young guys and I tried to help him mentally with some things, especially throughout the course of the week. I’m definitely ready to play.”
Like Humphrey, Canady has been used in various nickel and dime situations. Both are rangy and athletic. Both are solidly built and have great confidence.
It comes down to getting more playing time.
Smith’s loss will hurt. He basically had shut down one side of the field. Only Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a strong performance against him, last Monday night. The Steelers will certainly go after Canady and Humphrey on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, especially with receiver Antonio Brown.
But Humphrey and Canady will get better in time. They’ll even make a few plays between now and the end of the season.