Baltimore Ravens

Ravens defense has been a different unit when missing Jimmy Smith

Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith reacts after sustaining an injury during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass.

The question wasn't even finished before Ravens safety Eric Weddle interjected.

"We're not worried about who is going to play, who is not going to play," Weddle said Wednesday when asked about the secondary's confidence playing without top cornerback Jimmy Smith. "We'll play with the guys that we have out there. We'll be ready. We're going to be honed in on what they're going to be doing and we're going to play outstanding."


The status of Smith, who sustained what appeared to be a significant right ankle injury in the first quarter of Monday's loss to the New England Patriots, looms large as the Ravens enter their final three regular-season games knowing they might have to win out to make the playoffs.

Smith did not participate in the team's walk-through practice Wednesday, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh declined to say whether the cornerback has a legitimate chance to play Sunday in the team's regular-season home finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. All indications are that Smith, who was carted to the locker room unable to put any weight on his right leg, could miss some time.


"I see no purpose of getting into that," Harbaugh said.

On Sunday, the Ravens will have to match up against the Eagles' Jordan Matthews, a 6-foot-3, 212-pound receiver who presents a physical challenge to smaller defensive backs. The following week, they'll have to deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown, arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL. When they travel to face the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17, a healthy A.J. Green could be waiting.

The prospect of not having Smith only increases those challenges.

"I'm not pushing the panic button like it sounds like you are, so that's good," Harbaugh said. "We'll play great back there. I don't doubt that for one second."

The Ravens predictably downplayed the significance of Smith's potential absence, reiterating their "next man up" philosophy and expressing confidence in their other cornerbacks, a group that includes rookie Tavon Young, Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers and Chris Lewis-Harris.

"I've got the same amount of confidence that I had with Jimmy Smith. Jimmy Smith is a big part of our defense. He's a very important player, he's a great player. But I believe in the guys that are behind us," Ravens safety Lardarius Webb said. "Shareece Wright, he'll play that position, and he was our corner. Tavon Young came in and stepped up — next man up — and he's been balling ever since. So I have 110 percent confidence in these guys to know what they can do. I see Shareece, I saw what he did in training camp, I saw what he can do on the football field, and he's a big-time player, and he's going to step up."

Still, the secondary's body of work this season without Smith isn't good.

In the 27-23 loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 16, Smith helped hold star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. to two catches for 11 yards in the first half. After Smith left the game because of concussion symptoms, Beckham caught six passes for 211 yards and two scores in the second half, including a game-winning 66-yard touchdown with 1:24 to play.


A back injury sidelined Smith for the Nov. 20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, which featured Dez Bryant, the type of physical receiver who Smith would have likely shadowed, scoring two touchdowns and rookie quarterback Dak Prescott throwing for 301 yards and three scores.

The Ravens handled the Green-less Bengals without Smith on Nov. 27, but they had no answers for Tom Brady and the Patriots Monday night. Smith went down late in the first quarter when his right ankle appeared to twist under him while tackling rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell just outside the end zone.

Finding mismatches across the field, Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns, including a 79-yard score to a wide open Chris Hogan that essentially put the game away with just over six minutes to play.

Asked after the game about the impact of Smith's loss, Weddle said, "Obviously when Jimmy goes down, it hurts us." He did praise how Wright and the rest of the cornerbacks played in Smith's absence.

The Ravens' secondary has looked far more vulnerable without Smith on the field. His absence also creates depth issues at the position, and could force the Ravens to use a traditional safety, such as Matt Elam or Anthony Levine Sr., in more of a nickelback role.

As things stand, Wright would likely start opposite Young, with Powers being used as the No. 3 corner if he's healthy. Powers left the Patriots' game with a concussion; he practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.


Wright and Powers have struggled at times this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Wright has allowed 36 receptions on 57 targets for 509 yards and six touchdowns, while Powers has given up 29 catches on 45 targets for 273 yards and two scores. The analytics website ranks Wright and Powers 75th and 85th, respectively, among 120 graded cornerbacks.

"We all can be better," said Wright. "That's the main focus, playing together as a defense. Obviously, [Smith's] presence will be missed out there if he doesn't play. It would be great if he can play, but if not, we have to be prepared for him not playing or whatever the situation is. We all just have to play better."

Baltimore Ravens Insider


Want the inside scoop on the Ravens? Become a Ravens Insider and you'll have access to news, notes and analysis from The Sun.

Wright, a high school teammate of Smith's in California, has had a particularly tough season after signing a three-year, $16 million deal with the Ravens in late March. Wright had 11 tackles and got a game ball in the Ravens' season-opening victory over the Buffalo Bills. However, he was beaten for five touchdowns in a three-game span.

The 29-year-old was sidelined for four games with back and hamstring injuries, and then he lost his starting job to the rookie Young, and became the team's No. 4 cornerback when he returned.

Smith's injury could open the door again for Wright, but the Ravens are going to need him to play a lot steadier than he has this season. Wright insists he's up to the task.

"This is where you need to be at your best, this time of the season, toward the end of the season," Wright said. "We have great receiving corps coming up these next three weeks. This is where we've got to be at our best. I have to be at my best, especially not knowing whether Jimmy is going to be here or not. It's definitely another opportunity to finish strong. That's my main focus."


Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.