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Matt Elam A Good Option At Nickel Cornerback


The Ravens' lack of depth at cornerback is being compensated for by an abundance of talent and versatility at safety.

Starting strong safety Matt Elam showed that off flexibility Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, as he often dropped down to the line of scrimmage to play nickel cornerback.

Elam played all 59 defensive snaps against the Steelers. Fellow safety Jeromy Miles played in 48. Whenever Miles was in the game, Elam was at cornerback. The 2012 first-round pick spent a lot of time in a new position.

It's not often that teams will drop their strong safety to the line of scrimmage to match up against wide receivers and occasionally tight ends. But the Ravens had that scripted into their defensive game plan.

The Ravens moved Elam to cornerback in three-wide situations before Asa Jackson suffered a concussion in the second quarter, knocking him out for the rest of the game. With Lardarius Webb (back) still sidelined, the Ravens used Jimmy Smith and Jackson out wide and Elam in the slot. After Jackson's injury, Chykie Brown went outside and Elam stayed inside.

On Monday, Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked for his reasoning.

"There are a number of tactical reasons for doing that," he said.

"We're able to do it because Matt Elam can do it. He's done a great job of running out and playing the slot. That's not an easy thing to do, especially for a safety. So he's done a good job with that. It gives us some versatility. We can play a corner in there or we can play a safety."

The Ravens also like to utilize the depth they have at safety with players such as Miles, Brynden Trawick and third-round pick Terrence Brooks instead of going further down the depth chart at cornerback. Brooks and safety Anthony Levine can both play cornerback.

"We have a lot of good safeties; we're blessed with safety depth," Harbaugh said. "It's good to get those guys on the field."

Part of the reason Baltimore wanted to move Elam to strong safety was to get him closer to the line of scrimmage and utilize his strong tackling. Moving him to cornerback even further employs it. Elam is right in the thick of the run defense's teeth.

Elam graded out positively, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), against the run versus the Steelers. He held his own in coverage too. Per PFF, Elam was targeted seven times and gave up five catches for just 34 yards.

"Matt playing in there gives you a nice little run nickel package because he'll fly around and hit you and tackle you," Harbaugh said. "He'll be the first to tell you that he tackled better in the second half than the first half, but he's a good tackler.

"It builds our defensive package in a good way because now you have a guy in there that is able to defend the run."

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