Jimmy Smith's absence was apparent Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
Nobody wanted to pin the loss on Smith's back injury, but not having him on the field clearly impacted the defense. The Ravens struggled to contain Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who hauled in a pair of touchdowns, and the Cowboys leaned on their passing attack after the Ravens jumped out to an early lead.
As the Ravens shift their focus ahead to Sunday's matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals, the question is whether Baltimore can withstand Smith's absence if his back injury lingers.
"Whether Jimmy is in there or not we have to step our game up, myself included to get off the field," safety Eric Weddle said. "We're a confident group."
The Ravens have now played two games this year in which* *an injury has knocked him out of the game or sidelined him entirely – against the New York Giants and Cowboys – and they lost both.
With Smith out last week, the Ravens re-inserted Shareece Wright into the starting lineup after he had missed four of the last five games with injuries. Wright joined rookie Tavon Young and veteran slot corner Jerraud Powers as the starters.
Wright acknowledged that replacing Smith is a tough assignment, but stressed that he and the rest of defense can't overreact when he's out.
"We're a lot better when Jimmy is on the field," Wright said. "At the same time, don't ty to do too much. Stay focused on the main goal and don't feel like we have to be the ones making plays, and being overaggressive or just getting outside of our game."
Back injuries are tricky, and it's unknown whether Smith will return to action against the Bengals this week. He didn't practice Wednesday, but Head Coach John Harbaugh said he hopes Smith returns Thursday. Even if he does practice this week, that isn't necessarily a sign that Smith will play Sunday.
Harbaugh said at the start of last week that he wasn't too concerned with Smith missing practice time, and then the injury ended up lingering through the weekend. Smith practiced last Friday before getting ruled out of Sunday's game.
If Smith can't play this week, the good news for the Ravens is that the Bengals are dealing with a significant injury of their own. Top receiver A.J. Green has been ruled out because of a hamstring injury, so the Ravens won't have to deal with finding a way to stop him.
Like they do with all injuries, the Ravens have stuck to the "next-man-up" mantra when discussing Smith. He is one of the team's most valuable players, but the message from the veterans is that the defense needs to improve from what it showed Sunday regardless of who's on the field.
"The group gets better and we'll go see on Sunday if we learned from our mistakes, which I believe we will," Weddle said.