Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has his own action figure and a sweet nickname.
“He has the name Megatron for a reason,” cornerback
Smith doesn’t have a nickname yet, at least not one he’s willing to tell, he joked.
But when it comes to Monday night, Johnson and Smith should have one heck of a battle.
Johnson is a three-time Pro Bowler who is arguably the best wide receiver in the game. Actually, there isn’t a whole lot of argument. Johnson is almost always at the top of the list.
Then there’s Smith, a third-year cornerback who doesn’t yet have the national recognition but is “becoming one of the top corners” in the NFL in the eyes of Head Coach John Harbaugh.
Smith was asked whether this will be his greatest challenge this year.
“In a sense, absolutely,” he said. “But a different challenge.”
Johnson is a beast of his own kind. His accomplishments are well known. Last year, he set the NFL record for most receiving yards in a single season (1,964). This season, he ranks second in the NFL in receiving yardage (1,351), 52 yards behind Cleveland’s Josh Gordon.
The adjectives to describe the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson could go on and on. He can (and often does) out-leap multiple defenders hanging onto him. He can pull away from them with his speed. He’s the prototypical wide receiver, the kind of player you would invent on Madden.
Smith, 25, had a similar reputation as the perfect creation coming out of college. The 2011 first-round pick is now starting to realize his physical potential.
Last Sunday, Smith saw a touchdown completed in front of him for the first time since Week 5 in Miami. Still, Pro Football Focus (PFF) gave Smith his second-best pass coverage marks of the season.
Overall this season, Smith has allowed just 39 completions on 72 targets, per PFF. He’s had more than three catches against him in a single game just once since Week 3.
The 2011 first-round pick has arrived.
“He has been the corner that we all knew was there,” outside linebacker
Johnson has taken notice as well after watching tape.
“He is growing; he is aware of the game,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it’s his second or third year in the league, but he is coming up.”
Smith said he just feels more comfortable this season and cited the support of his coaches and teammates. He’s also stayed healthy for the first time in his career. “Everything gelled together to help me this season,” Smith said.
“He’s so much more sure of what he’s doing,” Flacco said. “He’s not afraid to be wrong. He’s not second guessing himself.”
So how will Smith go about stopping Johnson? First of all, he’ll need help.
Smith may not be covering Johnson on every play. Johnson plays multiple wide receiver positions on both sides of the field whereas Smith has remained anchored to the right side of the Ravens defense. Webb or Graham could end up drawing Johnson too.
It takes a collective unit to have a good day against a big-play wideout, and it’s something the Ravens have done well so far this season.
They Ravens held Houston’s Andre Johnson to five catches for 36 yards. They limited Cleveland’s Josh Gordon to three snags for 44 yards. Chicago’s Brandon Marshall notched just four catches for 42 yards. Cincinnati’s A.J. Green had a big day, but most of the damage was done on a last-second fluke Hail Mary.
The Ravens often use a combination of cornerback and safety help over the top to try to bracket big-time wideouts. Smith also will rely on his improved technique at the line to try to jam Johnson early on and throw him off his route. If Johnson has a free release, he’s nearly impossible to stop.
“This guy, he’s so big and so physical, doing too much [physically] could take me out of my game,” Smith said. “Doing too much could take him out of his game. You want to be physical because he’s that type of player, but at the same time, you have to rely on your technique.”
Suggs was asked if he had any words of wisdom for Smith before covering Johnson.
“Jimmy doesn’t need any words of wisdom,” the linebacker said. “I guess it is kind of like with the pitcher with the no-hitter. You don’t talk about it. We’re just going to let Jimmy be Jimmy.”