Remember what happened last year after the Ravens’ top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, went down in games against the New York Giants and New England Patriots? Or how about what happened without Smith in losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers?
Fast-forward to Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders when Smith, as he was returning a fumble 47 yards for a touchdown, realized that his sore Achilles tendon, which has been bothering him for a couple of weeks, wasn’t going to allow him to play much that day. That would have constituted a major problem in previous seasons, even with a backup quarterback throwing to a quality set of wide receivers as was the case with the Raiders on Sunday.
But the Ravens have more cornerbacks they trust now, and that includes rookie first-round draft pick Marlon Humphrey, who played all but one snap against the Raiders with Smith ailing. I still hear regularly from fans about how the Ravens should have used the 16th overall pick on tight end O.J. Howard or inside linebacker Reuben Foster or a top offensive linemen. It’s far too early to judge rookies and draft hauls, so maybe those fans will ultimately be proved correct. But it’s not too early to stress how important it’s been for the Ravens to have another physical, fast and confident cornerback who can line up on the outside and hold his own.
In back-to-back weeks, Ben Roethlisberger and EJ Manuel tested Humphrey and they made a few plays in the process. Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree, in particular, had his way with Humphrey on a couple of plays and beat him for what should have been an easy touchdown but Manuel overthrew his receiver.
However, Humphrey bounced back. He’s held up especially well on the deep ball, one of the biggest questions about him coming out of the draft.
Don’t misunderstand: The Ravens still need Smith on the field. If he’s healthy enough to play, he should be out there. However, at the very least, the Ravens now have a young and capable replacement in a league in which cornerbacks are such a valuable commodity.
Containing the top guys
The Ravens have matched up against three elite wide receivers this year: the Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Oakland’s Amari Cooper. The three have combined for 10 catches on 21 targets for 116 yards and no touchdowns. That’s quality work by the secondary.
Down up front
On the morning of the Ravens’ first training camp practice, starting center candidate John Urschel abruptly retired. Early in training camp, rookie fourth-round guard Nico Siragusa tore up his knee, costing the Ravens a potential top interior reserve. Starting left guard Alex Lewis had shoulder surgery in the preseason and was done for the year. Starting right guard Marshal Yanda, perhaps the best player at his position in the NFL, suffered a season-ending ankle fracture in Week 2. Matt Skura, who went from the practice squad to the starting right guard, is now sidelined after spraining his knee against the Raiders.
When you include undrafted rookie center Brandon Kublanow, who was put on injured reserve in training camp, that’s six interior offensive linemen who are unavailable to the Ravens.
First-year Ravens offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has used four players — Yanda, Tony Bergstrom, Skura and Jermaine Eluemunor — at right guard.
It happens to everyone
The Giants lost three of their top four wide receivers to season-ending injuries in one game when Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris went down Sunday. The Houston Texans lost two of their top defensive players for the rest of the year Sunday night as J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus suffered injuries. In the same game, the Kansas City Chiefs lost wide receiver Chris Conley to a ruptured Achilles. The Minnesota Vikings played most of Monday night’s game without starting quarterback Sam Bradford and they’ll play the rest of the year without standout rookie running back Dalvin Cook.
This shouldn’t need to be said, and yet every time another Raven goes down, you hear about how they’re cursed and about how they need to fire everyone from their head athletic trainer to the strength and conditioning coach to the massage therapist. Look, everyone wants to know why the Ravens have been hit extremely hard by injuries over the past couple of years. There’s no disputing that they have, but there’s no magic explanation. Injuries are depleting rosters league-wide and no team is immune.
Five quick thoughts
1. As his role on defense keeps growing and with Smith ailing, I’m not sure I’d be risking playing Humphrey on special teams as much as he is right now.
2. Count me among those who felt the Ravens could cut Willie Henry in training camp because they were so deep along the defensive line and they needed help elsewhere. The Ravens obviously knew what they were doing. He’s really come on the past few weeks and looks like an integral part of the defensive line going forward.
3. It was just one game and he’ll be tested every week, but running back Alex Collins clearly is working on his ball security. That was evident in the way he was holding the ball Sunday, taking a page out of Tiki Barber’s book.
4. Cool to see the respect Raiders guard and former Raven Kelechi Osemele showed Joe Flacco after Sunday’s game. Osemele waited for Flacco to be done with a few other conversations and then embraced his former quarterback. The two chatted for a while before parting ways. Flacco has his flaws as a passer, but the respect and admiration current and former teammates have for him is legitimate.
5. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees blitzed Manuel 42 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. The absences of Brandon Williams and Brent Urban have limited the Ravens’ ability to get pressure with their front four, so they adjusted Sunday and sent more guys.
Good luck, Mitchell
With Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears coming to town this weekend, it’s probably time to dust off this statistic: In the Harbaugh era, the Ravens are 11-0 against rookie quarterbacks in both the regular season and postseason at M&T Bank Stadium.
Those quarterbacks have combined to throw just three touchdown passes while being intercepted 17 times and getting sacked 30 times in 11 games.