Short-Handed Cornerbacks Have Big Challenge With Steelers Receivers


There may not have been a worse time for the Ravens to be short-handed in the secondary.

With Jimmy Smith sidelined for a few weeks with a sprained foot, and Asa Jackson (toe) still out, the Ravens are thinner at their thinnest position – cornerback.

While Smith is out, Lardarius Webb is in after not facing the Steelers earlier this season due to injury. But Baltimore only has two other active cornerbacks besides Webb in Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown.

Now here come the Pittsburgh Steelers and their trio of talented wide receivers: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant. They're one of the best groups in the league right now.

"It's big, it's very big," safety Matt Elam said of not having Smith.

"That's why we have five days to prepare. I feel like we have guys to come in and compete. Maybe they won't do the things Jimmy can do, but they'll compete and give us a chance to win the game."

It wasn't too long ago that Franks was back in his home state of Oklahoma chilling with his grandma on a daily basis before being signed by the Ravens.

"I was in her house, hanging out, getting three meals a day, working out a little bit, watching a lot of TV," Franks said with a chuckle.

"It's a different feeling. A couple weeks ago I was at home and now I'm going into it and possibly getting the start on Sunday Night Football in a big rivalry. To be serious, it's crazy. I'm not even going to lie to you."

Franks last started a regular-season game on Jan. 1, 2012, when he was a member of the Atlanta Falcons. He has four career starts, all coming during that 2011 season.

He played 60 snaps last weekend in Cincinnati, his most since Sept. 17, 2012. He had an up-and-down day. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Franks yielded four receptions for 53 yards in coverage.

Franks notched a career-high three pass deflections and has shown a penchant for being aggressive in getting to the ball. He came close to making an interception in each of the past two games, but was also in coverage on the Bengals' 53-yard line on third-and-10 in the fourth quarter.

If Franks doesn't start, it's likely going to be cornerback Chykie Brown. The Ravens could drop one of their many safeties, such as Darian Stewart or Anthony Levine, to cornerback. Safety Matt Elam is already the nickel cornerback.

Brown has been deactivated the past two games, the first time he's not suited up since his rookie year in 2011. So it's like a fresh start for him.

Brown started in Week 1 against Cincinnati, but was replaced by Jackson after giving up the game-winning 77-yard catch to Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Brown surrendered one catch for 14 yards against the Steelers in Week 2, but was targeted just twice.

"It lets me know how good God is," Brown said. "He gave me another opportunity. He gave me one in the beginning and it didn't go like I planned. He's showing that it's not over; I just had to make it through the storm. It's just preparing me to go in hungry."

The Ravens are going to need that hunger to slow down Pittsburgh's wide receivers.

Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 60 receptions. He's second in the league in receiving yards (852) and tied for fourth in touchdowns (7). He was briefly knocked out of the Week 2 meeting after taking a hit to the head, but returned to notch seven catches for 90 yards.

"Antonio is playing at that type of level at wide receiver, a J.J. Watt-type of level," Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's one of the best in the world at what he does and he's mentally and physically on top of his game."

Wheaton, a fourth-round pick last year, is the starter opposite Brown. He has 29 catches for 333 yards and one score. The 5-foot-11, 182-pounder is in the same mold as Brown – gritty, quick and elusive.

The fourth-round rookie Bryant has only played in two games thus far. The 6-foot-4 speedster has seven catches for 123 yards and a whopping three touchdowns already. He's averaging 17.6 yards per catch.

The Steelers have lost Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders in free agency the past two offseasons and it's hardly slowed them down. It certainly didn't last week. Steelers receivers caught five touchdown passes against the Colts.

"Big-play receivers," Franks said. "That's all you have to say. Get the ball in their hands and they make plays, from top down."

"They have a lot of nice receivers over there that can get open and run routes," added Webb. "And then they have No. 7 [Ben Roethlisberger] throwing it to them. So yes, we have to be on point this week, and we will."

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