Ravens More Equipped to Handle Jimmy Smith's Absence? 'Yes, Without a Doubt'

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Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith was on the practice field Tuesday, the morning after the NFL announced a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.

For now, there's no tangible effect on the field, but the Ravens know that will change soon.

The Ravens have been without Smith before, and it often didn't yield encouraging results. So is Baltimore better equipped this time?

"Yes," Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said. "Without a doubt."

As the first person to take questions about Smith's suspension, Martindale referred to the team and Smith's statements on the matter, adding only, "From the father/coach in me, I know there are mistakes that are made in life and he's going to have to deal with them. It's a very serious matter."

From the football coaching perspective, Martindale is in the process of seeing how he wants to tweak his secondary to account for the loss. The Ravens' cornerback depth has been lauded throughout the offseason, and now it will be put to the test.

Smith is no doubt the Ravens' top cornerback. He was having a Pro Bowl season last year, as only three NFL cornerbacks held quarterbacks to a lower rating, per Pro Football Focus. He did it despite dealing with Achilles soreness for much of the year.

Then his Achilles gave way on Dec. 3 and the Ravens had to run the final four-game stretch without him. The rest of the story is painful history.

In Baltimore's first game without Smith, it suffered a 39-38 loss in Pittsburgh in which Steelers wide receiver caught 11 passes for 213 yards and Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards. The Ravens ended up falling just short of the playoffs when the Bengals scored a long touchdown on 4th-and-12.

It wasn't the first time that Baltimore's secondary has had to try to replace Smith. He missed five games in 2016, eight in 2014, five in 2012 and four in 2011. He's played in all 16 games twice in seven seasons.

Here are the stats on the Ravens' pass defense without Smith for the past two years:

Martindale said those numbers are misleading because other players were also missing during that time. The front seven and the secondary work in tandem, and injuries have a ripple effect. Martindale is confident that this time will be different because of the options at his disposal.

"The tool box is full," he said. "It's full with players and our depth, and it's full with our coverages that we can go to if someone is struggling. I don't see that in the very near future, but we have those different things we can go to."

Baltimore's top three without Smith is seemingly still clear with Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young. All three have proven they are up to the task of starting but will of course need to play at a high level.

"With Jimmy not in our secondary, it's definitely not the same," Humphrey said. "He's been an elite corner through his years – I thought he was a Pro Bowler before his injury last year. When you don't have a key piece like that, it's going to take everyone in our secondary to lift us up."

Beyond those three, the Ravens have also been quite pleased with what they've seen from Maurice Canady, rookie Anthony Averett and veteran Stanley Jean-Baptiste, to name a few.

Canady is currently sidelined with a minor injury and didn't play in Monday night's game, but coaches have said previously that they view him as starter-grade. Averett and Jean-Baptiste both flashed their potential with Smith absent from Indianapolis.

Averett, a fourth-round pick out of Alabama, particularly stood out during a third-quarter goal-line stand. With the Colts at the 2-yard line, Averett headed off an outside run by Jordan Wilkins and helped bring him down for a 1-yard loss. Averett then stripped Colts receiver Daurice Fountain of a catch in the end zone and nearly came up with an interception. On third down, Averett had tight coverage on tight end Ross Travis on a fade that fell incomplete.

"I thought [Averett] made great strides in the Indy game down there in the end zone," Martindale said, saying it's a confidence booster for the rookie. "He made some big plays down there and I was really proud of that."

Martindale said he was also proud of Stanley-Baptiste. In the fourth quarter, the third-year veteran gave up a 39-yard pass to Steve Ishmael on a perfect throw and catch in which Jean-Baptiste was in good position. He got his revenge on the Colts' next drive when he read a pass in zone coverage and made an interception.

Stanley-Baptiste was seemingly on the bubble, but Smith's suspension and his strong play could push him on the right side of the 53-man roster. But as Martindale said, there's still competition to play out and scheming that can be done.

"We have a lot of depth and some guys are just going to have to step up early," Martindale said, as Smith will miss games against the Bills, Bengals, Broncos and Steelers.

"We're still working on that and how we're going to do that. I'm not going to sit here and say for the rest of the league, and especially Buffalo and the next three games, on how we'll do it. They'll just have to see. But we have plenty of players that can play."

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