Pees hoping two recovering stars give Ravens defense boost down final stretch

December 20, 2012 | Luke Jones

The Ravens remain noncommittal on Smith’s playing time as it’s clear Graham has taken his starting job for the remainder of the season. While it’s premature to label the Colorado product a bust, it’s apparent the Ravens haven’t received the type of return they were anticipating from the 27th overall pick of the 2011 draft.

In nine games this season, Smith has 29 tackles and three pass breakups and has committed seven penalties, which is tied for second on the team.

“I’m not sure he was as ready as we kind of hoped he would be [against Denver], or as much as he hoped he would be,” Pees said. “I’m not going to use that as an excuse. We just need to play better.”

Koch coming up big

One of the few bright spots of Sunday’s 34-17 loss to Denver was the performance of punter Sam Koch, who averaged just over 50 yards per punt on seven opportunities. His average of 47.8 yards per punt this season ranks fourth in the AFC.

He has been a critical reason why the Ravens’ punt unit has been one of the best in the league, holding opponents to just 8.1 yards per return to rank eighth-best in the NFL. The only major blip on the radar for the punt coverage unit was a 64-yard return by Washington’s Richard Crawford that set up the game-winning field goal for the Redskins in overtime two weeks ago.

“Sam has done a remarkable job this year adjusting his style to the game plan,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “We’ve played some explosive returners this season, and we went into each game with a plan of how to neutralize, or at least, to some effect, slow down the returners that we’re facing. It seems like each week he really modified his game in order to do that.”

Pro Bowl fan voting wraps

Fan voting for the 2013 Pro Bowl has finished with the Ravens having six players who are leading their respective positions in the AFC.

The fan vote accounts for one-third of the equation in determining who will be part of the Pro Bowl rosters when they’re announced next Wednesday. Players and coaches account for the rest of the votes.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, offensive tackle Michael Oher, fullback Vonta Leach, kick returner Jacoby Jones, free safety Ed Reed, and strong safety Bernard Pollard are the leaders at their respective positions. Running back Ray Rice is second behind Houston’s Arian Foster in the conference despite earning the 10th-highest number of fan votes in the entire NFL.

Ngata, Leach, Reed, and Rice all went to the Pro Bowl last year.