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Ravens Confident In Secondary, Even Without Jimmy Smith


What is the Ravens defense without cornerback Jimmy Smith?

Baltimore will find out if Smith can't suit up this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, or misses an extended stretch of time, because of an ankle injury that knocked him out of Monday night's game against the New England Patriots.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady heated up in the second half and finished with 406 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 30-23 win. A 79-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference.

The Ravens have been the league's top defense for much of the season, but have been beaten for big plays when Smith hasn't been on the field, leading to a reporter's question this week about how much the rest of the unit has to improve if Smith can't play.

"I'm not pushing the panic button like it sounds like you are, so that's good," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. "We'll play great back there [in the secondary]. I don't doubt it for one second."

In the Ravens' Week 6 game against the New York Giants, Smith helped bottle up star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the first half, holding him to two catches for 11 yards.

After Smith left the game because of concussion symptoms, Beckham caught six passes for 211 yards, including a game-winning 66-yard touchdown in the final minutes. On the play, Ravens rookie cornerback Tavon Young collided with safety Eric Weddle to turn Beckham loose. So even if Smith had been in the game, it may not have changed the result.

The game in which Smith's absence was perhaps most detrimental was against the Dallas Cowboys in a 27-17 loss in Week 11.

Big-bodied, physical wideout Dez Bryant was a mismatch problem on the outside, as he fought through smaller Ravens defenders to score two touchdowns and post 80 receiving yards. Bryant is exactly the type of receiver Smith is designed to cover.

The upcoming Philadelphia Eagles have 6-foot-3 wide receiver Jordan Matthews, but he doesn't have Bryant's physicality or production.

Despite the potential loss of Smith, the Ravens are staying confident and maintaining their "next man up" philosophy. When a reporter tried to ask about the unit's confidence level moving forward if it doesn't have Smith, Weddle interrupted the question.

"It's as high as it's ever been," he said. "We're not worried about who is going to play or who is not going to play. We'll play with the guys we have out there. We'll be ready. We're going to be honed in on what they're going to be doing. We're going to play outstanding and hopefully have a great game."

"Jimmy is a big part of our defense, we know that," safety Lardarius Webb added. "But also we preach the next man up around here. Shareece Wright can come in and do the job. He was the starter."

Shareece Wright, who began the year as a starter before dealing with back and thigh injuries, was replaced by fourth-round pick Tavon Young. The rookie has played well enough to keep the starting job opposite Smith.

Now it could be Young and Wright on the outside with veteran Jerraud Powers patrolling the nickel spot.

"We believe in these guys," Webb said. "We know they can play ball. And with me and Weddle in the back end, having control, being on top, we can continue doing the things that we do in the back end."

While Wright had some struggles earlier, he had a solid game against the Patriots in relief of Smith. He was targeted eight times and gave up four receptions for 77 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. He knocked away one pass.

It's been an up-and-down season for Wright, but now he's got a second chance.

"Opportunity to make up and finish strong," Wright said. "That's my focus. Finish strong."

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