OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens bent but didn’t break without cornerback Jimmy Smith this time.
After Dallas rookie Dak Prescott threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns in Baltimore’s 27-17 loss to the Cowboys last week, the secondary fared better against Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, who needed 48 pass attempts to throw for 283 yards and only one touchdown. Of course, the Bengals not having Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green helped immensely while the Ravens played their second straight game without Smith, who continues to deal with a back issue.
The results weren’t perfect, but head coach John Harbaugh will always sign up for his defense allowing 12 points — the Bengals’ other two points came on the game-ending safety — in a 19-14 victory. It sure beat what happened against the Cowboys and in the second half of the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants after Smith left the game with a concussion.
“I thought our defensive backs did a much better job in man-to-man coverage than the week before,” Harbaugh said. “They had been doing a good job at times throughout the course of the season — for most of the season — playing man coverage, but yesterday they really stepped it up and had some good reps out there.”
The Ravens hope to see Smith return this week as the Miami Dolphins come to town sporting a six-game winning streak, their longest in over a decade. The Dolphins offense is built around surprising star running back Jay Ajayi, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill works with a trio of receivers in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills each with at least 480 receiving yards this season.
After revealing late last week that Smith’s back injury is a muscular issue, Harbaugh said Monday that the sixth-year defensive back continues improving. Whether that means a Week 13 return is unknown.
“I was hopeful he would get back [against the Bengals],” Harbaugh said. “He ran again on Saturday, and he tried to see how well he ran on the ground, and it was better, but it was not good enough to play. That is where we’re at. He is close. He has been able to run for about a week, so we’ll see.”
The Ravens have moved Shareece Wright back into the starting lineup in Smith’s absence over the last two weeks, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees interestingly used different combinations in the nickel package on Sunday. Perhaps a reflection of his recent struggles against Dallas, veteran slot corner Jerraud Powers played only 25 of 75 defensive snaps against Cincinnati. It was his lowest snap total since suffering a groin injury in the Week 6 loss to the Giants.
Reserve safety and former first-round pick Matt Elam played a season-high 27 snaps while starting safety Lardarius Webb moved down to the slot in the nickel package, a position where he thrived early in his career. Harbaugh wouldn’t disclose whether we’d see more of that alignment moving forward.
“Those are different packages that we had in,” Harbaugh said. “Some of the packages are more passing. Some of them are more running. Some of them have to do with pressures. Some of them are more base calls. We’re just trying to have guys out there for what they do best and try to get our matchups as best as we can. That’s really what it was. We try to put guys in positions to do what they do best.”
No matter who else is out there, the Ravens secondary will only be at its best down the stretch with a healthy Smith back on the field.