Records aren't enough for Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith
By By Matt Vensel The Baltimore Sun
Dec 26, 2013 | 8:43 PM
With the Ravens' season on the brink, wide receiver Torrey Smith is hesitant to talk about his individual successes in a breakout season.
He knows he is within reach of breaking a franchise record, but only because the media keeps asking him about it.
The mention of it instead makes him lament the plays he has left on the field, which have been more prevalent in the season's second half.
"I look at it as I could easily be at 1,500 yards right now. Easily," Smith said. "I can think of a few plays off the top of my head — I can still envision them — that I didn't make. The past few weeks there have been plays where I didn't make them. It's just as simple as that. I didn't get it done."
After a scorching start to the 2013 season, Smith has cooled off in recent weeks as opponents continue to put the speedy third-year receiver, the only consistent pass-catching threat on an enigmatic Ravens offense, in their crosshairs. Defenses haven't figured out how to shut down Smith completely, but they have limited his opportunities, and the former Maryland receiver has struggled to take full advantage of the ones he has gotten.
Still, with 62 catches for 1,101 yards, Smith is the first Raven since Qadry Ismail in 1999 to eclipse 1,100 receiving yards in a season. And if Smith gets 101 more receiving yards in Sunday's regular-season finale against the AFC North first-place Cincinnati Bengals, Smith will break Michael Jackson's single-season franchise record of 1,201 receiving yards, set in 1996.
But as far as Smith is concerned, his pursuit of the record should be old news by now.
"The way I view it is that it should have been broken. I'm disappointed more so than anything else," Smith said. "But I don't really worry about that stuff. I just go out there and play ball. I feel like when we win, statistics come with that because the team is playing well."
After back-to-back 100-yard games in Weeks 4 and 5, Smith ranked third in the NFL with 556 receiving yards. Smith was targeted by quarterback Joe Flacco a whopping 52 times through those five weeks, catching 27 of them.
Since then, Smith has been targeted about three fewer times per game and has just 35 catches for 545 yards over the team's past 10 games. He hasn't scored in three games, and if he doesn't score Sunday, his four touchdown receptions would be a career low.
Defenses are taking more drastic measures to get the 24-year-old off his game, and they can get away with it because the Ravens' other skill position players don't consistently make them pay for it.
"They match a corner on him or they roll [a safety] over the top," Flacco said. "[They] try to get up in his face and not let him get off the line of scrimmage. I think the biggest thing is when you've got a team that doesn't play right and left corners, they match a guy on your better receiver. That guy is showing up on him."
Teams such as the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers asked their top cornerbacks to trail Smith. Smith had two productive games against Cleveland's Joe Haden. Besides catching a deep ball for 60 yards, he was kept in check by New York's Antonio Cromartie. And he had six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor.
The Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, meanwhile, mixed in more zone coverage and used a committee approach against Smith, who totaled five catches for 80 yards in those two December games against them.
Regardless of the approach, Smith, who lines up on the outside on most of his snaps, has grown accustomed to opponents making him a focal point of their game plan each week.
"I don't really get caught up in what other teams are doing, but it's a sign of respect," Smith said. "I take it as a challenge to be better in those situations and I've learned a lot from it, so I'll be better going forward."
What frustrates Smith most is the plays he feels he should have made but didn't, and there have been many in the deep passing game, an area in which he and Flacco clicked in the past.
Despite opponents using one deep safety increasingly in recent weeks, Flacco has targeted Smith just 40 times on passes 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, according to Pro Football Focus. Last season, Flacco threw deep to Smith 60 times.
And Smith has caught just 10 passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield for no touchdowns. A season ago, he caught 19 such passes with seven deep touchdowns.
With Smith still looking to get in sync with Flacco deep, he has been forced to make an impact on short and intermediate routes. He has produced chunks of yards on crossing routes and has been effective at times on comebacks and curl routes.
In last week's 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots, Smith ran a curl route and sat down in zone coverage near the right sideline. It took Flacco a few seconds to spot him, but after he completed the pass to Smith 15 yards down the field, the wide receiver stiff-armed Patriots safety Steve Gregory and added 27 more yards after the catch.
"He has been developing in all aspects of his repertoire," Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "I think we all know that he has that capability to get down the field. He's a huge deep threat. But he can also run intermediate routes as well. That's what you see in his maturation in the route-running system. … All he is doing is getting a little bit better and better each and every week."
But the more success Smith has, the more he says he realizes what he can accomplish if he continues to put in the time and energy and leave fewer of those big plays on the field.
"I know I can do anything in terms of being a receiver in this league," Smith said. "I can easily be one of the best ones. I just have to go out there and be consistent."