Tag Archive | "Jimmy Smith"


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In last stand, Ravens fail to change losing tune

Posted on 15 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday represented the last stand for the 2015 Ravens.

After their win over San Diego two weeks ago, players and coaches talked about making a second-half run to climb back into an underwhelming AFC wild-card race. Coming off their bye, the Ravens had an extra week to make mid-season adjustments and to prepare for a 2-6 opponent that hadn’t won a road game in nearly two years.

Their most optimistic fans believed there was at least a small chance for the Ravens to turn around their season starting with a win over the lowly Jaguars. But that dream vanished with Elvis Dumervil’s face mask penalty with no time remaining, setting up Jason Myers’ 53-yard field goal to hand the Ravens a stunning 22-20 defeat.

Head coach John Harbaugh called it “as tough a loss as you’re ever going to see” as Baltimore fell to 2-7, but it was just the latest crushing defeat in the most disappointing season in franchise history. The Ravens are just bad enough to find new ways to lose close games on a weekly basis.

“I felt like we lost the game way before that,” said wide receiver Kamar Aiken, citing the Ravens’ slew of other mistakes and his own dropped passes. “It should have never gotten to that point.”

Dumervil’s penalty was just the last of several miscues over the final four minutes of the game after Jacksonville punted the ball back to the Ravens with 3:57 remaining.

The first play of that drive was a Joe Flacco pass to Kyle Juszczyk that resulted in six yards before the fullback ran out of bounds — stopping the clock. After then moving the ball to the Jacksonville 43, the Ravens elected to take a timeout on fourth-and-5 instead of letting the play clock expire and taking a five-yard penalty for a delay of game.

Arguably the best punter in the NFL this season, Sam Koch punted the ball into the end zone for his first touchback of the season, giving the Jaguars the ball at the 20 instead of inside their 10 with 1:06 left and no timeouts remaining.

The decision seemed inconsequential at the time, but how crucial did that extra second and field position turn out to be for the Jaguars?

On second-and-15 from the Jacksonville 40, Ravens safety Kendrick Lewis dropped what would have been the game-clinching interception. That missed chance came just two plays before Dumervil’s critical mistake on a play in which virtually everyone on the field had stopped playing except for Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and the Pro Bowl outside linebacker.

But the Ravens had other failed chances and errors — including four second-half turnovers — that put them in position for the final bizarre play to matter. There may have been some new post-bye wrinkles with more three-tight sets on offense and new personnel groups on defense — the previously-missing 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown even played — but the same mistakes came at critical times as the Ravens committed nine penalties for 121 yards.

It used to be that the Ravens had to play poorly and a team like Jacksonville would need to be nearly perfect to have a real chance to win in Baltimore, but let’s not pretend that the Jaguars were a juggernaut with their collection of dropped passes, a 26-yard field goal miss, and questionable play-calling throughout the day.

Sunday was 60 minutes of mediocre football played between two bad teams, with the Ravens blinking hardest at the end.

“We’re just not the type of team that’s finding ways to win right now,” said Flacco, who committed three turnovers in the third quarter despite three touchdown passes on the day. “We’re not good enough to [win] football games at the end. You can look at how crazy it is no matter what. We have chances to close those games out. We’re just leaving room for stuff like this to happen.”

You can keep pointing to closes losses and dwelling on misfortune.

Instead of turning a corner after their bye week and making a statement that the second half of 2015 would be a different story, the Ravens played the same losing tune in the end. And it wiped out what faint hope might have remained in their lost season.

M&T Bank Stadium used to be a place where the Ravens were almost invincible, but they’re now 1-3 at home with losses to Cleveland and Jacksonville, perennial doormats of the AFC. There’s just no explanation for it other than being a bad team, even if the Ravens and their fans might feel like the football gods were conspiring against them on that final play.

“We are not catching those breaks,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “It’s a flag here, dropped picks, and [missed] opportunities, and we’re not coming up with them.

“It’s not the universe; it’s us.”

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Criticism not sitting well with Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — By nearly all accounts, 2015 has been a difficult season for Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Coming back from last November’s season-ending Lisfranc surgery on his left foot was already challenging, but the pressure accompanying a four-year, $41 million contract extension has put the fifth-year defensive under a microscope. The results haven’t been pretty over the first eight games as teams frequently targeted the No. 1 cornerback and even defensive coordinator Dean Pees described Smith’s play as “tentative” late last month.

Asked about that criticism with the Ravens now back from their bye, Smith didn’t give the impression that he agreed with his coach’s assessment.

“Honestly, I don’t even want to … I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know,” said Smith, who was then asked if he believes he needs to play more aggressively. “I feel like I’ve just got to keep getting better, keep playing my game.”

Has the criticism been too harsh for Smith? There’s no disputing that he’s given up several big plays in the first half of the season from Amari Cooper’s 68-yard touchdown catch in Week 2 to a long fourth-quarter reception to Anquan Boldin in a Week 6 defeat.

Of cornerbacks playing at least 300 defensive snaps in 2015, Smith ranks 71st in Pro Football Focus’ grading system for the position. However, the 2011 first-round pick leads the Ravens with two interceptions, accounting for half of the team’s takeaways through the first eight games of the season.

Last week, defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt downplayed Smith’s struggles, saying that he’s “doing a great job” and making “dominating plays” despite the need for more consistency.

With Smith typically preferring to play more press coverage, you could argue that he hasn’t been used effectively, but no one could reasonably argue that he’s played like one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, which is what the Ravens are paying him to be. He appeared on track to reaching that lofty territory last year when he was emerging as a Pro Bowl-caliber player before the unfortunate foot injury.

“I’ve just got to keep improving, getting better, just getting back to myself, pretty much,” Smith said. “You guys write one thing; I feel totally different than how you guys feel. I’m not going to get into that, but I’ve just got to keep playing ball.”

The good news is that Smith has stayed healthy after missing a total of 17 games in his first four NFL seasons. It’s reasonable to expect improvement over the second half of 2015 as he grows more confident with his surgically-repaired foot that he hasn’t wanted to discuss since training camp, leading many to wonder if he isn’t 100 percent physically.

The Ravens need much better from Smith than what they’ve seen so far in 2015.

Whether he agrees or not.

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Crazy or not, Ravens striking right chord after bye week

Posted on 10 November 2015 by Luke Jones

An 8-0 finish?



The chatter among players began moments after the win over San Diego and has only been amplified with a bye week to rest their bodies and minds. Despite a 2-6 record that has them standing 13th out of 16 teams in the AFC entering Week 10, the Ravens still have their sights set on the playoffs as they trail current No. 6 seed Pittsburgh by 2 1/2 games.

Few outside the Baltimore locker room think qualifying for the postseason is anything but crazy talk, but that’s perfectly fine with the Ravens.

“That’s why it’s going to feel so much greater when we finally make it,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “Coming back from this type of record and this season and the first eight [games], it’s going to feel that much greater when we make the playoffs. Let’s make some history.”

Unrealistic? Absolutely. Insane? Perhaps.

But I still like it.

Recent Ravens teams haven’t exactly oozed swagger like those from yesteryear, and that was even before they lost their two most demonstrative leaders — Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith — to season-ending injuries in the first half. Players know the odds are wildly against them, but believing you’re good enough fits into that winning equation — whether you actually are or not in the end.

Doubting talent and coaching is fair, but questioning the effort of these Ravens doesn’t mesh with all six of their losses coming by just one possession and a combined 30 points. A team that’s mailed it in doesn’t compete on a weekly basis, making the post-bye confidence an encouraging sign for better results with a more favorable schedule in the second half.

Of course, how much better is the real question, and that can only be answered on the field.

“We have to earn our way to have that conversation for sure,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But I expect our guys to have high expectations. The standard here has been high. We’ve set a high bar here for a long time, and we’re proud of that. We have high expectations, so we’re not going to let those expectations go. We’re not pleased with where we are — just like the fans aren’t pleased, coaches aren’t pleased, players aren’t pleased. Nobody in the organization is pleased with where we are, and we’re very determined to turn it around.”

We’ve all heard how the Ravens could be better than their 2-6 record. Given the small margin of defeat in those six losses, it’s fair to acknowledge the possibility, but let’s not forget those two victories could have easily turned into defeats as well. The eternal optimist would be stretching further to say the Ravens could be 6-2 or better than the pessimist would be in pointing to the possibility of a winless record through eight games.

Even if you believe that the Ravens were unlucky in the first half of the season, that doesn’t mean a run of good fortune is on the way. With Baltimore having a poor defense and an average offense lacking reliable pass-catchers — even before Smith’s Achilles injury — for Joe Flacco, predicting much better than a .500 record in the second half of the season would be based more on blind optimism than what we watched in the first half of 2015.

But players and coaches certainly don’t have to feel that way.

“The mindset is 1-0. Take care of what we have to take care of this week,” said running back Justin Forsett, who “definitely” thinks the Ravens can still make the playoffs. “We’ll just do our part and control what we control. Hopefully, at the end, we’ll be where we want to be.”

Even if the Ravens were to somehow run the table to finish 10-6, there’s no guarantee of even that being good enough as they needed help in Week 17 a year ago to make the playoffs with that same record. Rebounding from 2-6 is an incredible long shot, but who said the Ravens or their fans need to be grounded in reality, especially with eight games to go?

Does Harbaugh think the Ravens can make history as the first team to start 1-6 and make the NFL playoffs under the current format?

“Of course we can. We’re planning on it,” Harbaugh said. “We’re very optimistic about what’s in front of us, our future. We love our players, love the way they work, love the enthusiasm that they had today coming back and getting ready for Jacksonville.

“We’ll take it one day at a time, one game at a time.”

That’s all the Ravens can do, but some extra bravado can only help their near-impossible cause.

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Five Ravens predictions for rest of 2015 season

Posted on 07 November 2015 by Luke Jones

No one expected this.

Even if you wondered why the Ravens were receiving so much preseason love after enduring a number of substantial offseason departures, a 2-6 record at the midway point could haven’t been predicted based on the history of the John Harbaugh era. Now, Baltimore must simply crawl back to respectability before any thought of playoff contention can seep back into the psyche.

If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic, the Ravens have four remaining games against opponents who entered Sunday with losing records and two others against teams with only .500 marks. After playing five of their first seven on the road to begin 2015, Harbaugh and his team will relish the opportunity to play five of their next seven contests at M&T Bank Stadium.

While inviting you to mock my preseason prophecies for the Ravens from a couple months ago, I offer five new predictions for the second half of the 2015 season …

1. Joe Flacco will remind the Ravens that reworking his contract won’t be cheap this offseason. Simply looking at the numbers won’t tell the story as you can’t expect Flacco and this group of pass-catching targets to excel with Steve Smith out for the rest of the year. That said, the eighth-year quarterback will find a way to make the offense work and play at a respectable level. With Flacco scheduled to carry a $28.55 million cap figure in 2016, both sides knew all along that his six-year, $120.6 million contract signed in 2013 would need to be reworked this offseason. Flacco will play well enough to remind Ozzie Newsome that he can lead the Ravens to the top, especially if the general manager assembles an acceptable group of talent around him unlike two of the last three seasons.

2. Jimmy Smith will start playing more like the cornerback the Ravens signed to a long-term deal last spring. Already lacking playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Ravens could hardly afford to have the fifth-year cornerback play at an underwhelming level coming off last year’s Lisfranc surgery, but Smith has at least played better of late. The surgically-repaired foot should continue to improve as the season goes on, and that will help Smith’s confidence after defensive coordinator Dean Pees recently described his play as “tentative” this season. With other recent deals such as the ones with Eugene Monroe and Dennis Pitta not working out, the Ravens need Smith to look like a No. 1 corner averaging eight figures per year. He’ll begin regaining that form in the second half.

3. Rookie Buck Allen will emerge as a viable offensive weapon coming out of the backfield. It’s easy to say that the Ravens need an inexperienced group of receivers to step up in Smith’s absence, but how much can you reasonably expect from a group of former rookie free agents and castoffs? Baltimore will lean more on its running game and Allen needs more than the 4.6 carries he’s averaged in his first eight NFL games. Justin Forsett will remain the primary ball carrier, but the 2015 fourth-round pick has more explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield and can help an undermanned passing game. To keep Forsett fresh and to determine whether Allen can at least be a strong No. 2 option, Marc Trestman will give the rookie more opportunities and he will take full advantage.

4. Chris Givens and Terrence Brooks will become starters by the end of the season. Envisioning Givens as a starter isn’t going out on a limb since he played more snaps than Marlon Brown in the San Diego game, but the fourth-year wideout plays with a chip on his shoulder after plummeting down the depth chart in St. Louis and gives Flacco a speed option he lacked at the start of the season with Breshad Perriman sidelined. Givens isn’t a long-term starter, but he will make enough plays to warrant keeping him around as an option to use in three- and four-wide sets in 2016. Meanwhile, veteran Kendrick Lewis has disappointed at safety, and it’s time for the Ravens to see whether Brooks can be a viable starter moving forward. At the very least, he’ll wrestle away the job from Lewis.

5. The Ravens will finish with a 6-10 record to earn a top 10 pick in the 2016 draft. Predicting a dramatic second-half turnaround just isn’t realistic given Baltimore’s lack of overall talent and injuries, but a favorable remaining schedule will translate to more wins for a group that’s continued to compete every week under Harbaugh. Even with two of their three remaining away games coming against teams with losing records, the Ravens shouldn’t be considered a good bet to win on the road. A 6-10 record would have had the Ravens picking as high as eighth or as low as 10th in this spring’s draft. A return to championship contention in 2016 isn’t impossible, but hitting on a couple higher draft picks in the first and second rounds would be a heck of a shot in the arm for a roster lacking elite players.

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Perriman “frustrated” not to be on field, position coach says

Posted on 03 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman hasn’t spoken publicly since the eve of his first NFL training camp, only adding to the mystery of his knee injury suffered on July 30.

Three months later, the 2015 first-round pick still isn’t playing as Baltimore suffered its worst start in franchise history. After suffering a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp, Perriman aggravated the injury on Sept. 27 and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery a few days later.

Head coach John Harbaugh said last week that Perriman still had a “chance” to play this season, a stark contrast from the initial diagnosis that the 6-foot-2 wideout had merely fallen on his knee and would only miss a day or two of practice.

“He has been a little frustrated,” wide receivers coach Bobby Engram said on Tuesday. “I think he wants to be out there. He wants to compete. He wants to play. But at the same time, he realizes he has to go through this process and get himself healthy.”

Harbaugh called Perriman’s injury “one of the all-time slowesthealing sprained PCLs ever” last month, a description that might be accurate but didn’t do much to help the Central Florida product’s perception with some fans questioning his toughness.

With Steve Smith suffering a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in Sunday’s win over San Diego, the Ravens would surely like to see how Perriman would perform as Joe Flacco’s No. 1 receiver, especially if Smith follows through with his previous plan to retire. He’s not the only 2015 first-round receiver not to play this season — Chicago’s first-round pick Kevin White is on the physically unable to perform list with a stress fracture in his lower leg — but Perriman has been frustrated not to be able to prove the Ravens right for selecting him with the 26th overall pick this spring.

“I’ve been disappointed for Breshad, because he put in so much work and preparation to give himself that opportunity,” said Engram, who played 14 years in the NFL. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s a part of this business that we take part in. Football, it’s a physical sport, and sometimes these things happen.

“But he has been around [the facility]. He has been in the meetings. His spirits have been good, and we look forward to getting him healthy and getting him back.”

Upshaw, Z. Smith not filling sacks void

A season ago, Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, and Pernell McPhee combined for a whopping 36 1/2 sacks.

But with McPhee now in Chicago and Suggs lost for the season in Week 1, the Ravens haven’t been able to fill the void with fourth-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw and rookie Za’Darius Smith, who have combined for just two sacks despite extensive opportunities to rush the quarterback. Serving almost exclusively as a run-stopping strong-side linebacker in his first three seasons, Upshaw hasn’t collected a sack since the 2013 season even though he’s received more playing time in 2015.

“You’ll see that Courtney is dominant on the edge of the run game,” linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “He would love to have more production as a pass rusher. We would all love for him to have more production as a pass rusher. We’ve got combination of rush and coverage. We’ve got to find a way to tie those two things together better than what we have.”

The lack of an established threat on the opposite edge has allowed offensive lines to focus more on Dumervil, limiting the Pro Bowl linebacker to just 2 1/2 sacks in eight games. Assuming Suggs’ role as the every-down rush linebacker, Dumervil has still been able to generate pressure — even if not finishing plays with as many quarterback takedowns — and has graded as the ninth-best edge defender in the NFL this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

A fair question for the second half will be how well Dumervil holds up after seeing his most extensive action of his three years in Baltimore.

“I think that Elvis, as a run defender, is improving,” said Monachino, who added that Dumervil had previously served as a full-time player in Denver. “I think Elvis as a first- and second-down guy with some opportunity in the pass rush, I think that helps.

“We all recognize the fact that 55 [snaps in a game] is different than 35 reps for a guy that’s a pass rusher, especially a high-effort pass rusher. We’ve got to continue to find ways to get Elvis singled, and when we can, he has to take advantage of those opportunities.”

J. Smith still “dominating” despite inconsistency

After Jimmy Smith’s play was recently described as “tentative” by defensive coordinator Dean Pees, defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt took a more positive stance in assessing the No. 1 cornerback’s play in 2015.

Smith is returning from last year’s Lisfranc injury, which has led many to wonder whether he’s been fully healthy all season. The 2011 first-round pick’s play is low on Hewitt’s list of concerns for the league’s 30th-ranked pass defense, however.

“He’s giving up a couple of plays, but the guy — if you watch the entire film — the guy has been dominating people,” Hewitt said. “He has had some dominating plays. Has he had dominating games? No, but he has had dominating plays.

“I think he’s continuing to keep on getting better as a player. He’ll be the first to tell you that he wants to be better, and he has put a lot of weight on his shoulders and a lot of stress on himself to become that leader or that big-time playmaker that we need. He’s doing a great job. I’m not pressing too much on Jimmy.”

Rosburg not impressed with Tucker’s dance moves

Kicker Justin Tucker drew plenty of attention for his celebratory dance that followed his game-winning 39-yard field goal against San Diego, but his nod to Drake was lost on his special teams coordinator.

“I have no reaction whatsoever.” said Jerry Rosburg as he smiled when asked about Tucker’s “Hotline Bling” dance. “I’m not sure what it was, so I’m really not sure if I’ve seen it before.”

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Despite strong finish, Ravens defense on pace to set dubious record

Posted on 02 November 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens defense was far from perfect in Sunday’s 29-26 win over San Diego, but the struggling unit could take satisfaction in a strong fourth-quarter performance.

Despite surrendering another big play — this time a 70-yard touchdown from Philip Rivers to Malcom Floyd late in the third quarter — and allowing the Chargers to go 7-for-10 on third downs through three periods, Dean Pees’ defense buckled down in the final 15 minutes, allowing just 72 yards on 15 offensive plays and making stops on all three of San Diego’s third-down attempts.

Holding the Chargers to a game-tying 49-yard field goal with 2:29 remaining in game, the Baltimore defense left Joe Flacco and the offense enough time for a game-winning drive that culminated with a Justin Tucker 39-yarder as time expired. San Diego’s 371 yards were the lowest total allowed by the Ravens since Week 4 and the third-lowest total given up by Baltimore this season.

“With a win, everything is great, but we’ve still got to go back and work on some things,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who cited that the secondary played extensive man coverage on Sunday. “We gave up a huge play too easily, and that could change a game against a team on another night. Those are kind of the things I’m looking at right now. But like I said, we won, we’re happy. We’ve got work to do.”

In addition to eliminating the big plays, the Ravens must figure out ways to force turnovers as Sunday marked the fifth consecutive game without a takeaway. Baltimore is tied with Dallas for the fewest takeaways in the NFL with four, but the 2-5 Cowboys already had their bye and have played only seven games so far.

The Ravens’ last takeaway came in the fourth quarter of their Week 3 loss to Cincinnati when Elvis Dumervil stripped Andy Dalton of the football and C.J. Mosley returned the fumble for a touchdown. Counting overtime, 22 periods of football have passed since the Ravens last created a turnover.

Having forced 40 or more turnovers in a season three times — 2000, 2003, and 2006 — in franchise history, the Ravens are currently on pace to set the NFL record for fewest takeaways in a non-strike season. The Washington Redskins own the record with just 12 in 2006, a season in which the Ravens forced 40 turnovers on their way to the best regular-season record in franchise history at 13-3.

Interestingly enough, the 1982 Baltimore Colts forced only 11 turnovers in an abbreviated nine-game schedule that came after a players’ strike. The Colts finished 0-8-1 in their penultimate season in Baltimore.

Even if the Ravens are able to pick up the pace in the takeaway department to avoid making NFL history, they have a long way to go to match the franchise-worst mark of 22 takeaways set in 1996 and matched last season. Baltimore also had only 24 takeaways in 2013, the fifth-lowest mark in franchise history.

The Ravens defense must eradicate the big plays that have been back-breaking in several close losses this season, but creating a few more turnovers would go a long way in finding a few more wins in the second half of 2015.

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Ravens coordinator says Jimmy Smith’s play too “tentative” in 2015

Posted on 29 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This was supposed to be Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith’s year.

Returning from last season’s Lisfranc injury and receiving a four-year, $41 million contract extension that included a $13 million signing bonus this spring, the 2011 first-round pick was to finally take his place among the best cornerbacks in the NFL. An interception returned for a touchdown against Peyton Manning in the season opener made it look like Smith was picking up right where he left off before last year’s injury.

But the season hasn’t gone that way.

Despite Pro Football Focus rating him as the ninth-best cornerback in the league at the time of his foot injury last October, Smith has found himself targeted frequently this season, beginning with a 68-yard touchdown he surrendered to rookie Amari Cooper in a Week 2 loss to Oakland and continuing on a near-weekly basis. Smith says he isn’t surprised by opponents going after a cornerback coming off a serious foot injury, but that expectation hasn’t prevented the 6-foot-2 defensive back from being beaten on crucial plays, whether it was by A.J. Green for the game-deciding touchdown in Week 3 or by Anquan Boldin for a long fourth-quarter reception two weeks ago.

“I think he has been tentative and not really letting it go,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Whether that’s the injury, whether it’s not, I don’t [know] — only he can tell you that. I just haven’t seen him quite be the [same] productive player. It’s more [having] a lot of confidence and go up there and really be aggressive. It’s basically at the line of scrimmage, because he’s a big guy. When he gets his hands on you, he does a great job. I think sometimes he has been a little tentative, and I think he’ll say that, too.”

Dating back to the summer, Smith has said several times that he doesn’t want to talk about his surgically-repaired foot, leading many to believe that it’s remained an issue for the talented cornerback. Though he missed little practice time in the spring and summer, there have been occasions when Smith has appeared to be in discomfort or at least hasn’t trusted the foot.

Among 61 NFL cornerbacks who’ve played 200 or more snaps on passing plays this season, Smith ranks 53rd in PFF’s overall grades at the position. It’s a significant reason why a pass defense that already faced questions entering the season has ranked 28th in the NFL through the first seven weeks of the season.

Smith was paid handsomely to be the most reliable member of the secondary — and arguably the Ravens’ best defensive player — but he has instead joined his teammates in the struggles. The Colorado product is taking the difficult start in stride, but the Ravens can only hope that he regains his pre-injury form sooner rather than later.

“It’s probably just like anyone else coming off of [an injury],” Smith said. “Some things are going to happen that may not go your way, but you just keep fighting. It’s not like I’m out there just getting killed, so I’m not depressed or anything like that. The balls are going to come, I expect them to come, and I’ve got to make plays.”

At a position already dependent on confidence as well as sudden changes in direction, any lingering doubt or effect from the foot surgery would undoubtedly be detrimental to performance. Of course, health has been a concern in his career as Smith missed a total of 17 games in his first four seasons in Baltimore.

With a 1-6 record and playoff hopes all but lost, the Ravens are viewing the rest of the season through a long-term scope and they need Smith to begin playing like the difference-maker he was by the end of his first full season as a starter in 2013 as well as the first eight games of 2014. Facing a shortage of playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Ravens have more long-term money invested in Smith than any other defensive player currently on the roster to provide a game-changing return.

How does that happen?

“Keep playing. You have to go out there, and you have to practice it the same way,” said Pees, who added that it’s not a question of work ethic. “You can’t be tentative in practice no matter who you’re going up against on the scout team over there. You have to do it. I really do think it’s like anything else. The only way you build confidence is you have good things happen to you in a football game. Once that happens, it’s a lot easier.”

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Big plays — or lack thereof — hurting Ravens in 2015

Posted on 19 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Big plays — or the lack thereof — have plagued the Ravens in their nightmarish 1-5 start to 2015.

The league’s 27th-ranked pass defense allowed three pass plays of 50 or more yards in Sunday’s 25-20 loss to San Francisco, bringing the total surrendered for the season to six. In all, Baltimore has given up 12 pass plays of 30 or more yards despite facing a relatively pedestrian list of quarterbacks through the first six weeks of the regular season.

Head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees are beginning to sound like a broken record when discussing the pass defense, but there’s been no apparent improvement as the Ravens are in the midst of the worst start in the 20-year history of the franchise.

“If we stop giving up big plays, we’re playing very good defense,” Harbaugh said. “But that’s how it always works when you give up big plays. That’s where all the yards are. That’s how most of the yards are made in this league — by big plays.

“It’s hard to methodically go down the field every single series and execute perfectly. There’s no margin for error with that, so you have to be able to make big plays. If you can stop big plays, then you’re going to stop an offense.”

After saying only three of Pees’ calls in a total of 90 defensive snaps in last week’s loss to Cleveland were bad decisions, Harbaugh acknowledged a “scheme issue” that resulted in 49ers fullback Bruce Miller’s 52-yard catch late in the first quarter that led to a field goal. The Ravens were in a heavy run defense for a third-and-1 play when Colin Kaepernick connected with a wide-open Miller, a play Harbaugh credited as good scheming on the 49ers’ part.

The Baltimore coach said San Francisco’s other long pass plays — the 76-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith and the 51-yard completion to Anquan Boldin — were results of poor coverage technique from cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Jimmy Smith, respectively.

“I didn’t have any problem with any of the [other] calls yesterday,” Harbaugh said, “but there are always calls that you’re going to look at and you’re going to say, ‘Hey, we could be better.’ You’re going to always try to find things that you could do better. There were no major issues with that yesterday.”

Opponents making big plays has been a theme in their five losses, but the Ravens have made very few big plays of their own, failing to recover a fumbled punt or to come away with two potential interceptions against San Francisco on Sunday. Baltimore ranks 30th in the NFL with just four takeaways in 2015 and hasn’t come away with one since the Week 3 loss to Cincinnati.

In the 20-year history of the franchise, the Ravens have had six or more takeaways in a single game seven times.

Meanwhile, the Ravens offense continued to struggle to push the ball down the field with only one pass play of 30 or more yards on Sunday — the 34-yard touchdown from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith in the third quarter. Through six games, Flacco has completed seven passes of 30 or more yards and only one of 50 or more.

“Offensively, we need to start making some big plays,” Harbaugh said. “We need to scheme some big plays in. We need to attack some weaknesses in coverages a little bit better, and we need to make some of those plays. We need to make some catches, need to make some throws, need to make some runs, some run blocks. And we have to do a better job of finding those things for our guys, as well as a coaching staff.”

Timeout questions

Facing criticism for the use of two of his second-half timeouts in Sunday’s loss, Harbaugh defended his decisions a day later.

After a 17-yard completion to fullback Kyle Juszczyk to open the second half, the Ravens burned a timeout less than a minute into the third quarter because of a play call that was “going to be a disaster” on a first-and-10 at their own 37-yard line with San Francisco leading 16-6.

“We wanted to get a good play off there,” said Harbaugh, who did not consider taking a delay-of-game penalty in that situation. “A timeout is not always the most important thing, especially when you’re behind. Sometimes we want to keep drives alive. [When] you start backing yourself up with penalties, I think you’d be asking me that question.”

With the 49ers leading 19-13 early in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh elected to challenge the 51-yard completion to Boldin to the Baltimore 25.

Despite no visual evidence from camera replays that the play had a chance to be reversed, Harbaugh rolled the dice and ultimately lost his second timeout of the half when referee John Parry ruled the catch to stand. The 49ers scored a touchdown three plays later.

“I took a shot there, because it was a big play,” Harbaugh said. “You couldn’t get it on the [stadium video board]. We really didn’t have it on TV [in the booth]. I took a shot there, because it was a big play in the game. We thought we had a chance to win it, and we were hoping we could get it. We had nothing definitive, because we didn’t get much on TV, and we got nothing on the screen.”

No update on Lewis

Harbaugh had no news on starting safety Kendrick Lewis, who injured his left knee in the third quarter of Sunday’s game and didn’t return. Lewis exited the post-game locker room on crutches and was scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Monday.

“I don’t have any updates on injuries, I apologize,” Harbaugh said. “I have been grinding away on [game] tape. I haven’t had a chance to get to that yet.”

James back to Houston

After being waived over the weekend to make room on the 53-man roster for running back Terrence Magee, cornerback Charles James was claimed by Houston on Monday.

The Ravens signed James to their practice squad in early September after he was waived by the Texans at the end of the preseason. The 5-foot-9 defensive back was promoted to the 53-man roster last week after spending more than a month on the practice squad.

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Beaten up and bad: Ravens defense nevermore in 2015

Posted on 12 October 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The single voice of a Browns fan barking in the lower concourse of M&T Bank Stadium could be heard moments after the Ravens’ 33-30 overtime loss to Cleveland on Sunday.

It was a sound that may have signaled the official end of an era we’ve enjoyed for more than 15 years. Of course, the fall of the Ravens defense didn’t happen overnight as we’ve watched future Hall of Famers ride off into the sunset and other perennial Pro Bowl selections depart, but a unit in transition had still possessed enough talent and swagger to find ways to be more good than bad over the last couple years. Sunday’s performance eliminated any lingering optimism about a defense that had already played poorly at Oakland in Week 2 and was torched by Andy Dalton and Cincinnati in the home opener two weeks ago.


If giving up 33 points, 505 yards of offense, and 457 passing yards to Josh McCown and the Cleveland Browns — yes, the AFC North doormats that hadn’t won in Baltimore since the George W. Bush administration — isn’t rock bottom, I don’t know what it is. Allowing Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or even Philip Rivers to post those kinds of numbers is one thing, but a 36-year-old journeyman shredding you in your own stadium?

Baltimore may still field a defense, but it’s no longer a group worthy of being called a “Ravens” defense.

“I put this on the defense as a whole. We didn’t come through [Sunday],” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “We were supposed to show up, and we did not show up in the second half.”

Of course, it’d be unfair to rip the defense without acknowledging how ravaged the group was by injuries by the time the Ravens entered overtime on Sunday afternoon. Already without Terrell Suggs and Chris Canty long before Sunday’s game, the Ravens lost their only reliable pass rusher (Elvis Dumervil) and their No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks (Lardarius Webb and Will Davis) in the first half, injuries that caused the defense to completely unravel after a respectable “bend, but don’t break” performance over the first 30 minutes.

In overtime, another injury to No. 4 cornerback Kyle Arrington led to rookie Tray Walker playing in the base defense after he’d been a healthy inactive in Pittsburgh last week. A reflection of how little confidence they had in Walker, the Ravens used second-year safety Terrence Brooks at the nickel spot earlier in the game before having no choice but to go to the 2015 fourth-round pick in crunch time.

With the modern reality of the salary cap and other circumstances contributing to where the Ravens currently stand, they knew all along they could only take so many injuries after the offseason departures of Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee. Deep depth is a rarity in the NFL these days, and the Ravens are learning that painful lesson in the midst of the worst start in the 20-year history of the franchise.

“Whoever is out there has to play well. Whoever is out there has to get the job done,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s what has to happen. That goes for all of us. As coaches, we have to find a way to put whoever is out there in a kind of position where they can be successful. That all goes hand-in-hand. And that was a very winnable game. We should have won.”

The phrase “next man up” has been a rallying cry in Baltimore for years, but the words have never rung more hollow. The Ravens simply aren’t talented enough with an array of issues on both sides of the ball that are haunting them in some form every week. Blame defensive coordinator Dean Pees as much as you’d like — he needs to own a mess that could ultimately cost him his job — but a defense can only survive so much attrition, whether by injuries or free-agent departures or underwhelming draft picks.

In truth, an offense consisting of receivers and tight ends who required a program to identify scoring 30 points on Sunday should have been more than enough with even an average defensive performance against the Browns, who entered Sunday’s game ranked 20th in the NFL in total offense and points scored.

The defense can’t solely blame the injuries for its demise as the Ravens racked up penalties at crucial times — veteran Jason Babin committed infractions on two different Browns’ touchdown drives in the second half — and key performers such as linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley and safety Will Hill also played poorly. If the defense can’t even tackle or count on its known commodities to make plays, what chance does the group really have?

They may be wearing purple and black, but you certainly don’t recognize a defense allowing 27.4 points per game, just a hair better than the franchise-worst 27.6 per contest allowed in the inaugural 1996 campaign. In five games, Baltimore has already allowed 137 points, just 28 fewer than the record-setting 2000 defense surrendered in an entire regular season.

Late in the game on Sunday, which figure in the defensive huddle could players turn to for an emotional lift? Forget having a Ray Lewis or Ed Reed or Suggs; the Ravens didn’t even have a player like Dumervil to make everyone believe they could force a stop.

The Baltimore defense was a ship without a captain in the second half. And it sank hard.

“We’re disappointed, because we know what kind of team we are,” said Mosley, who struggled mightily in pass coverage throughout the game. “We know how [hard] we work, and we’re definitely better than 1-4. We’ve just got to put our foot down and prove that. We play hard, but we’ve just got to finish as a team.”

The Ravens keep talking about their need to finish games and to get off the field on third down — Cleveland went 12-for-19 in that department on Sunday — but they appear more “finished” than able to finish in 2015 with Thanksgiving still more than a month away.

They’re beaten up and bad with no relief in sight as back-to-back West Coast trips loom. Nothing is a given moving forward when you lose to the Browns at home for the first time since 2007 and only the fourth time ever in Baltimore.

Instead of fans celebrating a win with a chance to improve to .500 next week to reboot the season, all that could be heard at the end of Sunday’s game was a single Browns fan barking in the concourse.

And the “Ravens” defense was nowhere to be found.

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Jimmy Smith trying to shake off disappointing start to 2015

Posted on 29 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked how he shakes off one of the most difficult games of his NFL career, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith demonstrated by literally shaking his arms and shoulders while smiling.

Even when dealing with an 0-3 start, it’s important to have a sense of humor — and a short memory — when competing in an NFL secondary. That’s not to say that Smith didn’t take his poor performance hard on Sunday, declining to speak to the media after giving up the game-winning touchdown pass to four-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green in the 28-24 loss to Cincinnati.

“I took the loss as a loss,” said Smith, who apologized Monday for being “too emotional” to talk after the defeat. “It wasn’t so much that I was just so down on myself, it was just a loss. I didn’t play as well as I wanted to, so all of that affected it.”

Signed in the offseason to a four-year, $41 million contract extension through 2019, Smith appeared ready to pick up where he left off last season, returning a Peyton Manning interception for the Ravens’ only touchdown in a 19-13 season-opening loss to Denver. However, the 27-year-old cornerback has struggled since then, allowing a long touchdown to Amari Cooper in the Week 2 loss at Oakland before being torched by Green in Week 3.

In three games, Smith has been thrown at 28 times and has allowed 18 receptions for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s a stark contrast from a year ago when the 2011 first-round pick was targeted just 39 times in eight games and allowed 20 receptions for 163 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. A Lisfranc injury that required season-ending surgery last November short-circuited a Pro Bowl-caliber campaign and forced Smith to spend much of the offseason rehabbing, but he was mostly a full participant in training camp and played in two preseason games.

The early-season woes have led many to wonder if his left foot is still an issue 11 months after the injury. A problem to the foot area can be debilitating at a position requiring backpedaling and such frequent changes in direction, but Smith wouldn’t comment on the possibility of any lingering effects.

“People come back from injuries; they play,” said Smith, who’s missed 17 games due to injuries in his young career. “Until this season is over, I’ll never talk about my foot.”

Identified as one of the leaders of a defense trying to fill the void of the injured Terrell Suggs, Smith said he isn’t lacking confidence despite allowing Green to make seven catches for 126 yards and a touchdown when they were matched on Sunday. He cited his preparation and film study as the biggest reasons why his recent play won’t shake his confidence moving forward.

Of course, the proof lies on the field where he’s appeared hesitant to engage in press coverage such as when he was beaten badly by Cooper on the 2015 first-round pick’s touchdown in Week 2. His early third-quarter interception of Andy Dalton on Sunday was a flash of what he’s capable of doing, but Smith hasn’t carried the same swagger on the field that he did a year ago when he had appeared to finally arrive as one of the best cornerbacks in the AFC.

The struggles have been across the board in the secondary as the Ravens currently rank 29th in pass defense. Miscommunication, technique flaws, and poor tackling have plagued Baltimore in each of the last two weeks, but Smith views these issues as correctable with better preparation as well as “effort and will” to bring down ball-carriers.

“There are times when we’re playing at a high level; it’s just we’ve got to be way more consistent,” Smith said. “Even though they’re huge plays, it’s a minor technique that we’re missing or that we’re not completing. So, it’s not even the calls; it’s things we have to fix and clean up, and we’ll get that done.”

Trying to rebound from the first 0-3 start in team history to save their season, the Ravens need Smith playing at his highest level in order to do so. Other than the passing combination of quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Steve Smith, there may not be a more important player to the Ravens’ success than Smith when he’s playing at his best.

For what it’s worth, teammates and coaches haven’t lost faith in him despite the last two weeks.

“Jimmy is one of our best corners,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “He’s one of the good players on our team — great guy, great teammate. Some days you give up plays; some days you make plays. That’s just the National Football League, and I wouldn’t want to take any other corner but him.”

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