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Cornerback Jimmy Smith relying on smarts, short-term memory to come back from rough game

Jimmy Smith talks all the time about the importance of cornerbacks having a short-term memory, but his might never be tested more than it will be this week.

In the Ravens' 28-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Smith was beaten consistently by star receiver A.J. Green, who caught 10 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with just over two minutes remaining.

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After the game, Smith stared into his locker and later told reporters that he was too emotional to answer questions. Following the Ravens' practice Monday, Smith did talk but his focus was already on his next challenge, which is only a couple of days away: stopping the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown, who is regarded by many as the league's top receiver.

Such is life for an NFL cornerback.

"We're already on Pittsburgh," Smith said after apologizing to reporters for not speaking in the locker room Sunday. "All eyes are focused on what they got and what they bring to the table. It's going to be a very tough matchup even without Ben Roethlisberger. Michael Vick is still very capable of running that offense. We have our hands full."

Even while looking ahead, Smith didn't dodge questions about his struggles over the past two weeks. In the Ravens' Week Two loss to the Oakland Raiders, Smith was beaten on the game's first possession by Amari Cooper for a 68-yard touchdown pass. It was part of a seven-catch, 109-yard afternoon for the Raiders' rookie.

Then, on Sunday, Green did a lot of his damage on Smith, who shadowed the Bengals' star on most plays. Green's 80-yard fourth-quarter touchdown came while safety Kendrick Lewis was in coverage, but Smith did miss a tackle on the play.

According to Pro Football Focus, Smith, who does have two interceptions, has allowed 18 catches on 28 targets for 275 yards and two touchdowns. In eight games last year before his season was ended by a foot injury, Smith surrendered only 20 catches for 163 yards and no touchdowns.

"I don't think my confidence is shaken because obviously I still go down and try to play the game I want to play," Smith said. "Obviously, though, I don't want to give up big plays. My confidence comes in my preparation. I prepare and study harder than most people, I would say. My confidence isn't going to shake because a play has been made on me."

Still, Smith's struggles have been one of the biggest disappointments — and surprises — of the Ravens' 0-3 start. The Ravens signed him to a four-year, $41.1 million extension this offseason, and any hope of a much-improved secondary hinged largely on Smith returning to form as a shutdown corner.

However, after playing well in the regular-season opening loss to the Denver Broncos, Smith has been one of the culprits in the Ravens' myriad defensive breakdowns.

"Those nights that he just had, even though we hated it and he's probably having a long week, that's what's going to make him great," said Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb. "That's what's going to get him in the Hall of Fame. That's what I always tell him. He's just got to keep fighting. Push through these type of nights and then you're going to have some good ones ahead of you."

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil also defended Smith, calling him "one of the best players on our team."

"Some days you give up plays, some days you make plays," Dumervil said. "That's just the National Football League. I wouldn't want to take no other corner but him."

To his credit, Smith didn't make any excuses. Asked if his surgically repaired left foot is giving him issues, he said that players come back from injuries all the time and he wouldn't comment about his foot until after the season was over. Instead, he acknowledged that it's just a matter of him playing smarter and showing better technique.

"I just got to be a little bit smarter in situational football," Smith said. "I guess on a couple of those, I kind of relied on my ability and not my smarts. I should have been a lot smarter in those situations."

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Of course, the Ravens' problems on the back end go beyond Smith. In their past two games, they've allowed Derek Carr and Andy Dalton to complete a combined 50 of 78 (64 percent) passing attempts for 734 yards and six touchdown passes.

The tackling in the secondary has been poor and the miscommunication has been rampant. Ravens coach John Harbaugh even acknowledged Monday that the coaching staff is exploring simplifying things in an effort to cut down on the number of busts the Ravens' secondary has had.

"It's never as simple as one thing. We're just not playing those coverages as consistently the way they need to be played," Harbaugh said. "… When you become really good in the back end, it's because you play those things consistently well together. And to play them together, you have to be on the same page about the way you are playing them. So yeah, we look at ourselves as coaches, we look at ourselves as players and we look at what we need to do to play them better and more correctly the next time. But the bottom line is they weren't played right, they weren't played well in the instances that we gave up the plays and they've got to be played better."

Smith insisted that the Ravens' secondary is close to turning it around, citing "simple coverages" and "minor things" that need to be fixed. He also understands that it starts with him, and it's going to have to start against Brown, who is second in the league in receiving yards (436) and tied for third in receptions (29).

"When you lose three in a row, you're looking forward to any chance you can to go back out there and show what you're made of," Smith said. "This is a great opportunity on a Thursday night against a tough team at home to show what the Ravens are made of. I expect us fully to go out and do that."

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Sun staff writer Jon Meoli contributed to this article.

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