Ravens' Cornerback Talent and Depth Proving to Be Invaluable


The Ravens' Achilles heel, at least on defense, the past several years has been their cornerback depth.

So it's fairly ironic that this year's cornerback group proved itself Sunday with its top player literally suffering from Achilles soreness.

Jimmy Smith played just seven snaps in Sunday's 30-17 win in Oakland because of a nagging Achilles injury, which flared up at the end of his 47-yard fumble recovery returned for a touchdown.

In past years, Smith being on the bench has been the kiss of death. This season, rookie Marlon Humphrey stepped in and the Ravens more than held their own against a very talented wide receiver corps.

Head Coach John Harbaugh has long been preaching that a team can't have too many cornerbacks. This offseason the Ravens stockpiled players at the position, and it's proving to be quite valuable.

"We are very good with the guys that we have," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "I am pretty excited about the fact that we have some depth in the secondary."

Last season, Smith missed five games completely and left early in two because of injuries. The Ravens went 2-5 in those games.

After he left early with a high ankle sprain in New England, the Ravens gave up a late 79-yard touchdown in what was a close game.

Even more painful, Baltimore gave up a game-winning touchdown to the Steelers on Christmas Day in Pittsburgh when Shareece Wright, who replaced Smith, wasn't playing aggressively and let Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers march down the field.

That game bounced the Ravens from playoff contention, and they vowed from that point forward to improve the secondary. With the signing of veteran and durable cornerback Brandon Carr, re-signing of Lardarius Webb and drafting of Humphry in the first round, the Ravens completed the mission.

Smith left Sunday's game after the first defensive series. The Ravens weren't facing Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who was an MVP candidate last year, but still had a very talented wide receiver corps to deal with.

The Ravens allowed backup quarterback EJ Manuel to complete just half of his passes (13 of 26) for 159 yards.

Amari Cooper, who torched the Ravens with seven catches for 109 yards and a touchdown as a rookie in 2015, was held to just one 8-yard grab.

Michael Crabtree, who caught a combined 17 passes for 199 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games against the Ravens, notched six receptions for 82 yards and one touchdown this time. Most of his damage came on a 41-yard touchdown catch on a broken play in which Manuel eluded a sack and found Crabtree wide open on the run.

Humphrey mostly matched up with Crabtree, who has one inch, 20 pounds on the rookie and eight more years of NFL experience. The two battled, both physically and verbally. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Crabtree was targeted five times versus Humphrey and made three catches for 33 yards.

Harbaugh said that with hindsight, the Ravens could have helped Humphrey out more by calling for different technique. Crabtree won on some hitch routes versus press coverage, but they weren't easy catches by any means.

"He did not back down," Harbaugh said of Humphrey. "Crabtree is pretty special. We have had some experience with him, haven't we, in Baltimore? He's a great one. Marlon didn't back down. Marlon is confident. … Those are great learning experiences."

Humphrey played a season-high 55 snaps – 98 percent of Sunday's defensive reps. If Smith's Achilles continues to bother him, Humphrey will likely continue to see a lot of action. He said he didn't feel any pressure when he was called into duty.

"I felt good out there, felt relaxed, had some learning lessons so I was proud about that," Humphrey said.

"It was definitely fun getting some more snaps. Going against two pretty good receivers, Pro Bowl receivers … I kind of got my rhythm in there."

Carr shouldn't be forgotten either. He was one of the league's top cover corners entering the game, though he unfortunately got caught looking into the backfield on Crabtree's long touchdown.

According to PFF, opponents have just a 53.2 quarterback rating when throwing in Carr's direction. That's the 11th-best mark among NFL cornerbacks. Carr has allowed just 11 catches on 22 targets (50 percent) for 170 yards and has two interceptions.

The Ravens have also been able to cover two key injuries at slot cornerback, as second-year player Tavon Young, who started 11 games last year, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in minicamp and top backup Maurice Canady went down early in training camp.

Canady could come back later this season, but Webb has done a more-than solid job filling in after converting to safety last year.

"Marlon played well. Brandon Carr played well. Lardarius Webb played well," Harbaugh said after Sunday's game. "They were going after Webb a little bit, and he did a good job."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content