The Baltimore Ravens suffered a critical blow to the dominant defense on Sunday. Although the team in purple and black left M&T Bank Stadium victorious, they had to do so without their best defender. Cornerback Jimmy Smith, who has performed at the highest level of any defensive back this year, tore his Achilles tendon against the Lions on Sunday. Smith throughout his seven-year career in Baltimore has been plagued with the injury bug. He has only played two full seasons for the Ravens. Smith’s last healthy season was in 2015. It was apparent that Smith was at risk of further injuring his Achilles, as his tendon was sore for the majority of the 2017 campaign. To add to the mess, the NFL informed the Ravens and Smith before Sunday’s game that he would be suspended for violating the NFL’s Performance Enhancing Drugs policy. Smith was set to appeal the decision but withdrew it after it became apparent he would miss the rest of the season. Smith’s four-game suspension will be served through the next four weeks.
Marlon Humphrey, the first-round rookie was slowly incorporated into Baltimore’s defensive gameplan more and more each week. Now he is thrust into the full-time starter role. His experience in the Ravens secondary is sure to be an asset, but he has yet to prove himself. After Smith went down against the Lions, Humphrey was abused by the Lions. Humphrey allowed a season-high 116 yards on five passes as per Pro Football Focus. He cleaned up his act towards the end of the game though, as he picked off Matthew Stafford to all but seal the Ravens victory. The Ravens have four games remaining. Baltimore will play the Steelers, the Browns, the Colts, and the Bengals to close out the season. This means that the young defensive back will have to face the likes of Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, Josh Gordon, and A.J. Green. It’s going to be a baptism by fire for Humphrey, and he will need to grow up quickly.
On the other side of Humphrey sits veteran cornerback Brandon Carr. Carr, a former Dallas Cowboy, was brought to Baltimore to add depth to a once shallow secondary. During his stay in Charm City, he has become one of the team’s best pass defenders. I expect the Ravens to turn to him down the stretch to go mano a mano with the elite pass catchers the Ravens face. The Ravens will also utilize second-year cornerback Maurice Canaday along with rookies Jaylen Hill and Chuck Clark. Baltimore could also turn to Lardarius Webb, the cornerback turned safety, to fill holes at cornerback. Additionally, Baltimore is promoting cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste from the practice squad to fill Jimmy Smith’s now vacant roster spot. All of these moves will certainly help the Ravens going forward, but none will be able to produce the dominance seen by Smith.
The Baltimore Ravens were in a similar situation earlier this year when defensive tackle Brandon Williams missed an extended period of time. Williams is Baltimore’s best run stuffer. Without him, the defense suffered mightily, and opposing running backs trampled the defensive line. The same thing could happen to the Ravens secondary. An injury to the best player in the unit derails all of a group’s production. Despite it happening earlier in the season to another unit, it won’t happen to Baltimore’s defensive backs. Unlike the defensive line at the time, the secondary is loaded with playmakers. Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are arguably the best safety tandem in the league. Baltimore also has an up and coming group of defensive backs in Marlon Humphrey, Jaylen Hill, and Chuck Clark. They will be mentored by Brandon Carr and Lardarius Webb, veterans who have been in big-time situations before. I’m not saying Jimmy Smith’s absence will be a nonfactor. It’s going to hurt Baltimore. Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and company don’t bring the same level of production that Smith did. However, they still have what it takes to play at a high level against some very good opponents. Baltimore’s defense overall will continue to fare well, even with a bruised up secondary.