AFC North: Jimmy Smith

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh was loose and insightful during his 31-minute season-ending news conference on Tuesday.

The blog will touch on all of these topics more in depth over the next couple of weeks. Here are the top 10 highlights from Harbaugh's media session:

1. Harbaugh is planning on Gary Kubiak returning as offensive coordinator, although he didn't rule out the possibility of Kubiak leaving. "I'm planning on Gary being back," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "If that changes, we'll deal with it if it comes up. I don't anticipate that changing at this time."

2. Wide receiver Steve Smith expressed to Harbaugh a desire to come back. But, as a suggestion from general manager Ozzie Newsome, Smith is going to take three weeks to decide how he feels. "Steve was brimming with enthusiasm the last time I talked to him to come back and play a role, whatever role that might be," Harbaugh said. "It doesn't have to be a role where he is playing every snap. He still looks like he has plenty left in the tank to me."

3. The Ravens remain committed to left tackle Eugene Monroe even though he didn't start the AFC divisional playoff game. He wasn't at 100 percent because of an ankle injury. "Eugene is our starter going forward," Harbaugh said. "We're happy to have that be the case."

4. Cornerback Jimmy Smith, who suffered a season-ending foot injury on Oct. 26, is expected to start running in four weeks. "He'll get a chance to get a full offseason in," Harbaugh said.

5. Tight end Dennis Pitta is seeing a couple of specialists about his hip injury. "I will say I'm cautiously optimistic because of the injury," Harbaugh said. "We want to make sure he's totally healthy and totally safe, as much as is reasonable in football to make sure the hip is sound."

6. Harbaugh was asked whether the team would like to get an extension done with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. "I think everybody knows the answer to that," Harbaugh said. Ngata carries the team's biggest salary-cap hit in 2015 at $16 million.

7. Harbaugh said he emphasized behavior before the players cleaned out their lockers after enduring an offseason in which five players were arrested. "I think the threshold of tolerance has changed without question," Harbaugh said. "I told the guys that. That's something they need to understand. I don't think that's a bad thing at all. It's a privilege to play in the National Football League. It's a privilege to be a part of the Ravens."

8. Secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo has been granted permission to interview for the New York Giants' defensive coordinator job. It's scheduled to take place Wednesday. "I don't know what's going to happen with that," Harbaugh said. "That's something that he deserves an opportunity to look at."

9. Harbaugh was complimentary of safety Will Hill and how he ran the secondary. "We're challenging him for the next three to four months," Harbaugh said. "Are you going to come back a better player than you were when you left here in January? Is that slate going to be clean? We fully expect it to be. He just had a baby. He's doing great with his family. We're going to try to help him in any way we can with that."

10. The Ravens will hold their personnel meeting Wednesday and then form their offseason plan after the Pro Bowl when the top team officials meet at owner Steve Bisciotti's place in Florida. Harbaugh did say he would like free agents Torrey Smith and Justin Forsett to be re-signed. He also indicated that you can't count out Forsett for the lead running back role in 2015. "He proved that," Harbaugh said.

Why Jimmy Smith could be Ravens' MVP

December, 3, 2014
It's really a no-brainer that running back Justin Forsett is going to win the Baltimore Ravens' most valuable player award this season. He is fourth in the NFL in rushing and turned around the Ravens' run game.

But a case can be made for Jimmy Smith being the team's MVP. Yes, the cornerback who suffered a season-ending foot injury in late October.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Smith
Patrick Semansky/AP PhotoCornerback Jimmy Smith was a disruptive force for the Ravens prior to his season-ending injury.
Smith was the Ravens' best defensive player this season, and his absence has only magnified that. The Ravens' defense and secondary haven't been the same since Smith went down on the opening drive in Cincinnati. The loss of Smith could be the reason why the Ravens (7-5) fall short of making the playoffs. And, even if the Ravens reach the postseason, there's not much hope of a Super Bowl run with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck standing in the way.

When it was announced that Smith was done for the season, I wrote he was the player the Ravens could least afford to lose outside of quarterback Joe Flacco. The results since have proven it.

To show how valuable Smith has become, here is what the Ravens have done with and without Smith this season:

With Smith, the Ravens were 5-2 and held quarterbacks to a 86.8 passer rating (No. 11 in the NFL). Without Smith, the Ravens are 2-3 (which includes the game at Cincinnati where Smith was hurt) and quarterbacks have recorded a 113.1 passer rating (31st in the league).

With Smith, the Ravens gave up seven touchdown passes (tied for fewest in the NFL) and limited teams to 40.4 percent on third downs (14th). Without Smith, the Ravens have allowed 13 touchdown passes (tied for fourth-most in the league) and have watched teams convert 46.2 percent of their third downs (27th).

With Smith, the Ravens knew he would shut down his side of the field and they could roll their coverage elsewhere. Without Smith, there are too many holes in the secondary for the Ravens to cover up.

Do the Ravens give up six touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger with Smith? Do they fail to hold a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter with him?

Asked about the play of the Ravens' cornerbacks, coach John Harbaugh said: "You just have to play better. We have to make some plays back there. We didn't play the routes a couple times right, [which] led to some big plays. That's really what it boils down to. The other balls were contested balls and contested catches, for the most part."

Injuries have hurt the Ravens at cornerback, but the Ravens held their own when Smith was out on the field. Remember the Ravens shuffled through Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson and Lardarius Webb for the first month of the season and they weren't as vulnerable as they are now.

The Ravens are on pace to give up 4,384 yards passing, which would set a franchise record for futility. That would be over 400 yards more than any previous season.

Smith is scheduled to earn $6.8 million next year after the Ravens picked up his option, which is a $5.5 million raise from this year. Based on how the Ravens have fared without him, he is certainly worth it.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- One of the Baltimore Ravens' worst fears came to light Thursday when it was announced that cornerback Jimmy Smith underwent season-ending foot surgery.

Other than quarterback Joe Flacco, the player the Ravens could least afford to lose this season was Smith. The Ravens' secondary went from being depleted to downright depressing.

There is no player on the Ravens who can match Smith's size, speed and playmaking ability. That's why the loss of Smith represents the undoing of the Ravens' championship aspirations.

Two weeks ago, the Ravens were tied for the second-best record in the AFC. Now they are reeling after two road losses to division rivals and the loss of one of their best defensive players.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Smith
AP Photo/Darron CummingsThe loss of Jimmy Smith to a season-ending foot injury will be tough to overcome for the Ravens.
This is reminiscent of the 2001 season, when the Ravens' hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions were dashed with the season-ending injury to running back Jamal Lewis. The Ravens didn't have an answer at running back that season, and they don't have one at cornerback this year.

Given the Ravens' weak remaining schedule, the AFC North's last-place team can still reach the playoffs by winning their last four home games and stealing a game on the road. And, other than Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, the Ravens don't face another top-10 passer this season.

The Ravens are still solid enough in their front seven that they can beat the likes of Zach Mettenberger, Blake Bortles and Ryan Mallett. So making the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons isn't out of the question for the Ravens (5-4).

But any thoughts of making a run in January ended with Smith's surgery. With a depleted secondary, nobody can realistically say the Ravens can upset Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck or Ben Roethlisberger in the playoffs. Not with the Ravens' current cornerbacks. Not with Lardarius Webb, who is rated No. 101 out of 109 cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus. Not with Danny Gorrer, who is on his fourth team in four years. And not with Tramain Jacobs, an undrafted rookie who was just promoted from the practice squad.

The Ravens had given up the 27th-most passing yards this season before Smith went down with an injury. How many will they give up when quarterbacks don't have to worry about Smith breaking up a pass? In the Ravens' first full game without Smith, they allowed six touchdown passes to Roethlisberger. The Ravens are expected to get back cornerback Asa Jackson, who is on short-term injured reserve with a toe injury, sometime in December. Jackson, though, is a first-year starter as well. How the Ravens let their depth at cornerback get to this troubling state is a legitimate question.

The players and coaches can cling to the hope that they've already been able to overcome losses to key players. The Ravens won two games with two rookies starting on the left side of the offensive line when tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele went down with injuries. They were able to withstand the season-ending injury to tight end Dennis Pitta as well as the abrupt release of running back Ray Rice.

The loss of Smith is on another level. He was playing as well as any cornerback in the NFL. Smith was a game-changer on the Ravens' defense. And not having him on the field changes the Ravens' season completely.
The Baltimore Ravens were without three starters at Wednesday's practice as they begin preparations for the Tennessee Titans.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot), guard Marshal Yanda (knee) and center Jeremy Zuttah (undisclosed) were not suited up during the media viewing portion of practice. Zuttah was on the field, but he was observing off to the side.

Smith is the only one who is not expected to play Sunday. When he sprained his left foot on Oct. 26, coach John Harbaugh said Smith would miss a few weeks.

Yanda was on the injury report last week with a knee injury, but he still started last Sunday. Zuttah hasn't missed a game since 2011.

Slot receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) wasn't at practice after not playing Sunday. He is considered questionable for Sunday's game.
PITTSBURGH -- An argument can be made that Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is the most valuable player on the team after Sunday night's 43-23 loss at Heinz Field.

In their first game without their top cornerback, the Ravens allowed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw six touchdown passes, nearly matching the total they allowed in the first eight games of the season (a league-low seven).


The Ravens' strategy was to drop seven into coverage, but they still couldn't stop the Steelers receivers from running free. Roethlisberger threw five touchdowns against four or fewer pass-rushers Sunday, matching the most in a game in ESPN Stats & Information's data set (since 2006).

"We are missing a great player, but we are capable guys in the secondary," cornerback Dominique Franks said.

On Sunday night, it looked like the Ravens had slow guys in the secondary. Franks and safety Darian Stewart watched Martavis Bryant get open against their zone defense for a 19-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Lardarius Webb was too late to get out of his backpedal and let Markus Wheaton get separation for a 47-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first half. In the fourth quarter, Chykie Brown was easily beaten by Antonio Brown for a 54-yard touchdown, and Franks and Will Hill were late to converge on Bryant for a 18-yard score.

None of this should come as a surprise. It was more a validation of their worst fears. Webb missed three of the first four games because of a back injury. Franks wasn't in the league for the first five weeks of the season. And Chykie Brown was benched after the season opener when he gave up the winning 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green.

There was hope that safety Hill, who was suspended for the first six games of the season, would provide a lift for the secondary. In his first start, Hill didn't make much of an impact and was stiff-armed by Antonio Brown on his long touchdown.

The Ravens forced the Steelers into three three-and-outs in the first quarter because they were able to get pressure on Roethlisberger. There was one series when the Ravens sacked him on three straight plays.

Once Roethlisberger got time, the Ravens' secondary was no match for the depth and speed of the Steelers' receivers. It marked only the second time in his 18 meetings with the Ravens that Roethlisberger threw more than two touchdowns in a game.

"You could have never sold me on that during the week," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He had a heck of a day, and that is a reflection on us all."

So, when will Smith return? He went through the Ravens' locker room on Friday on crutches with his foot in a protective boot. Even though the Ravens haven't given a specific timetable on Smith, he likely won't be back for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans. Smith has a better chance of returning after the bye the next week.

Ravens vs. Steelers preview

October, 31, 2014

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers renew one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries on Sunday night at Heinz Field. Both teams are 5-3 and a half-game out of first place in the AFC North. The Ravens beat the Steelers, 26-6, when the teams met in early September and they will try to sweep their bitter rival for the first time since 2011.

ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley and ESPN Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 8:30 p.m. ET game.

Brown: Jamison, how will the Ravens compensate for the loss of Jimmy Smith at cornerback and how bad is the timing for the Ravens to face Ben Roethlisberger when they are so thin at cornerback?

Hensley: To characterize losing Smith as “bad timing” is an understatement. It’s atrocious. Smith, who is sidelined with a foot injury, is not only the Ravens’ best cornerback but he’s also among the top five cornerbacks in the NFL. The Ravens have no one who can replace his combination of size, speed, aggressiveness and intelligence. Even the most optimistic supporter of the Ravens couldn’t think Dominique Franks, who was out of football for the first five weeks, can fill the void left by Smith.

The only way the Ravens can lessen the blow is with their pass rush. When Roethlisberger threw 522 yards and six touchdowns, he was hit twice by the Colts. The Ravens’ top three pass-rushers -- Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Pernell McPhee -- have combined for 14.5 sacks and 23 quarterback hits. Over the last five meetings with Roethlisberger, the Ravens have sacked him 10 times. If they can put that pressure on Roethlisberger, it will give him less time to find the open receiver.

While a lot of the focus has been on Roethlisberger, how have his weapons improved in the passing game? With the Ravens being without their top cornerback, will it be tough for them to match up with the Steelers?

Brown: The Steelers and Roethlisberger have to be salivating over the prospect of attacking the Ravens’ secondary. No Smith and a defense that is thin at cornerback has to reckon with a receiving corps that has changed considerably since the Ravens soundly beat the Steelers in Baltimore. Justin Brown, who lost a fumble inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line early in the teams’ Sept. 11 game, isn’t even in the picture at wide receiver right now.

Rookie Martavis Bryant, who has been a revelation in his first two NFL games, and reliable veteran Lance Moore will play against the Ravens after not dressing the first time the two AFC North rivals played. Those two along with Markus Wheaton should make the Ravens pay if they focus too much attention to two-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown. Brown, meanwhile, opens things up for the other receivers, including tight end Heath Miller, who is coming off his third career 100-yard receiving game.

Baltimore ran the ball effectively against the Steelers on Sept. 11 and it looks like Justin Forsett has really emerged for the Ravens. Has he been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises this season and how are the roles defined in the Ravens’ backfield?

Hensley: It would’ve been difficult for anyone to predict this type of production from Forsett. In training camp, he was the No. 4 running back behind Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro. Halfway through the Ravens’ season, Forsett is fourth in the NFL with 571 rushing yards. The Ravens needed Forsett to step up after Rice was cut and Pierce struggled to stay healthy. What stands out about Forsett is his vision to find the running lanes in the zone blocking scheme and determination to break tackles. The reason the Ravens signed Forsett was his familiarity with Gary Kubiak’s offense after playing in Houston two years ago. He has remained atop the depth chart by averaging 5.5 yards per carry, the third-best average in the league.

Forsett is the primary ball carrier and gets about 70 percent of the snaps. His work could be affected this week by a knee injury that kept him out of Wednesday’s practice. Pierce had been the Ravens’ back when they get in the red zone. But he was a healthy scratch last Sunday after averaging less than three yards per carry in three of five games. So, Taliaferro has become the top backup and scored two red zone touchdowns in Cincinnati.

The run game has been one of the most improved areas on offense, along with the Ravens’ line. Joe Flacco wasn't sacked in the first meeting, but the Steelers were able to get a lot of pressure Sunday on Andrew Luck. Should the Ravens expect a significantly better pass rush on Sunday night?

Brown: That depends on whether the Steelers can get a big lead early against the Ravens. The Steelers’ defense fed off the offense’s fast start Sunday and an early 21-3 lead forced the Colts to throw, throw and throw some more. Indianapolis had just 10 rushes in its 51-34 loss to Pittsburgh and two of those were scrambles by Luck. Making the Colts one-dimensional on offense allowed the Steelers to really go after Luck and they hit him a lot.

The Steelers probably won’t be as fortunate against the Ravens. They struggled to stop the run when the two rivals played earlier this season and teams with zone-blocking schemes have given the Steelers fits. Unless the Steelers jump out to a big lead early for the second consecutive game they will get a steady dose of Forsett and Taliaferro. That alone should temper the pressure they are able to put on Flacco.

Coach John Harbaugh made a comment earlier this week about how the Ravens are comfortable playing at Heinz Field. What did you make of that comment and can it be traced to the Ravens winning in Pittsburgh in 2010, 2011 and 2012?

Hensley: That’s exactly what Harbaugh meant by that comment. He was saying that the Ravens know what it takes to win in Pittsburgh. You can’t blame Harbaugh for taking a confident stance, especially considering the circumstances. It was just a week ago when the Ravens sat atop the AFC North after winning five of their previous six games. Now, after losing in dramatic fashion in Cincinnati, the Ravens could potentially drop to last place with a loss in Pittsburgh. By saying the Ravens are comfortable at Heinz, Harbaugh is telling his players that they can win in Pittsburgh because they’ve done it before.

The Ravens beat the Steelers earlier this season by keeping them out of the end zone. While the Ravens rank second in the league in fewest points allowed, the Steelers defense uncharacteristically ranks 16th in yards allowed and 21st in points given up. Do these numbers truly reflect how the defense is playing?

Brown: Unfortunately for the Steelers, they do. There were questions about the defense, and that was before the Steelers lost starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and cornerback Ike Taylor to significant injuries. Cornerback Cortez Allen, whom the Steelers signed to a five-year, $25 million contract right before the start of the regular season, has struggled so much that the fourth-year veteran has been demoted twice in the past two weeks.

The Steelers have also had issues stopping the run and an offense that can stay balanced is going to give them problems. The defense has shown signs of improvement and it has generated consistent pressure on the quarterback as well as takeaways during the Steelers’ two-game winning streak. If that continues against the Ravens the Steelers have a great chance of improving to 7-4 with games against the lowly Jets and the two-win Titans next up on the schedule.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens' injury list doesn't look as bad as it did one day earlier as four starters returned to practice on Thursday.

 Running back Justin Forsett (ankle), guard Marshal Yanda (knee), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shin) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (rest day) all were back on the field in preparation for Sunday night's game at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tight end Owen Daniels (knee) did not practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday, but the Ravens typically give Daniels a day off during the week.

The only players who missed practice the past two days were: cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot), linebacker Terrell Suggs (neck) and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (thigh).


Did not practice: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), TE Owen Daniels (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (neck).

Limited participation: RB Justin Forsett (ankle), G Marshal Yanda (knee).

Full participation: DE Chris Canty (wrist), DT Haloti Ngata (shin), CB Lardarius Webb (not injury related).

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

October, 26, 2014

CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday:

What it means: The Ravens (5-3) gave first place in the AFC North back to the Bengals (4-2-1) after one week atop the division. It marked the first time since 2009 that the Ravens have been swept by the Bengals, and Baltimore falls to 2-2 in the AFC North. Ravens coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco have lost five of their seven trips to Cincinnati.

Controversial finish: It looked like Flacco had thrown a winning touchdown to Steve Smith with 32 seconds remaining. But Smith was called for offensive pass interference when he put his hands on safety George Iloka, who fell immediately. The Ravens were furious over the penalty, which negated an 80-yard touchdown that would've put them ahead 31-27.

Falter at the end: After coming back from six points down in the fourth quarter, the Ravens' defense couldn't finish off the game. The key play was a 53-yard Andy Dalton pass to Mohamed Sanu on third-and-10. Rookie safety Terrence Brooks got turned around on the pass. Then Dalton scored on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to put the Bengals up 27-24 with 57 seconds remaining. It was the Bengals' third red zone touchdown against the NFL's best red zone defense.

Causing turnovers: It looked like the Ravens were going to steal this game. Down 20-14 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens scored 10 points in two minutes, 32 seconds because of their clutch defense. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata forced a fumble, and linebacker C.J. Mosley delivered an interception (Matt Elam stripped the receiver) to set up the two late scores.

Stock watch: Rising -- running back Lorenzo Taliaferro. The rookie fourth-round pick stepped up in a game when Bernard Pierce was a healthy scratch. He scored two touchdowns. Taliaferro wasn't touched on his 8-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Flacco picked off: The Bengals converted 10 points off Flacco's two interceptions. Flacco made a poor decision in the third quarter, when linebacker Emmanuel Lamur only needed to reach out for the pick. Then, on the next drive, Flacco was intercepted by Adam Jones when wide receiver Torrey Smith stopped running his route after getting hit on the head. Flacco has thrown 11 interceptions in seven games in Cincinnati.

Injuries pile up: Cornerback Jimmy Smith sprained his left foot on the opening drive and didn't return. That started a painful day for the Ravens, who watched guard Marshal Yanda (left knee) and wide receiver Torrey Smith (head) go to the locker room with injuries. Yanda came back to play the entire second half.

Game ball: Ngata. He nearly changed the game in the fourth quarter when he forced Dalton to fumble. That led to the Ravens' first lead of the game. Showing how much impact he can make when healthy, Ngata now has become a turnover machine with two interceptions and a forced fumble this season.

What's next: The Ravens finish up a tough road stretch by playing at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. This is the Ravens' fourth road game in five weeks.

Ravens CB Jimmy Smith injures foot

October, 26, 2014
CINCINNATI -- Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith injured his left foot on the opening series Sunday. There has been no information given on whether he'll return.

Smith was taken to the locker room for examination after he limped off the field. It would be a devastating loss because Smith is the team's top cornerback and the Ravens have only two other cornerbacks active (Lardarius Webb and Dominique Franks).

Cornerback is one of the Ravens' thinnest positions. Asa Jackson is on short-term injured reserve, and Chykie Brown is inactive for the second straight game.

Through seven weeks, Smith was rated as the 10th-best corner in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. He had only allowed 20 catches for 163 yards (a meager 8.2 yards per catch).
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Jimmy Smith has developed into the best cornerback on the Baltimore Ravens and one of the top ones in the NFL. He is also emerging as a leader.

That became evident on Friday afternoon, when Smith stood in the middle of the final huddle of the day and spoke to the team. He touched on the value of time and how you want to look back on your career and be proud of it when it's all finished.


"Like all guys, he's grown up and continues to do that," Smith said. "He's taken a big role. He's a top player on our defense. I've said it many times: I think he's one of the best players in the league. And he carries himself that way."

Smith has taken a different route than many of the Ravens' first-round picks. He didn't start right away, as previous top picks like Joe Flacco or Michael Oher did. He didn't go to multiple Pro Bowls before the age of 26, as Haloti Ngata or Terrell Suggs did.

Dealing with injuries and inconsistency, Smith didn't become a full-time starter in the NFL until last season, his third year in the NFL.

Once he established himself in the Ravens defense, he quickly built a reputation for slowing down some of the top receivers in the NFL: Cincinnati's A.J. Green, Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, Chicago's Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin and Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson.

"I think he's really learned how to take care of himself and study," Harbaugh said. "He talked about that as far as knowing what to do and studying your opponent. [He's] taking care of himself physically; I think he's done a great job of that. He had injury issues early on and I think he's learned how to take care of himself. He's done a great job with that."
It's a sad commentary on a secondary when a 340-pound defensive tackle leads the team in interceptions five games into a season.

But that's the case with the Baltimore Ravens, where Haloti Ngata has picked off two passes and the entire secondary has none. The Ravens are the only team in the NFL that doesn't have an interception from a defensive back this season.

To put it in perspective, there have been 75 defensive backs who have picked off a pass this year and 24 teams have at least two defensive backs with an interception.

By coach John Harbaugh's count, the Ravens' defensive backs had three chances to make an interception in Indianapolis. The most memorable miss was the overthrown pass to Hakeem Nicks, but Ravens safeties Terrence Brooks and Darian Stewart had a violent collision going after it.

"I’m really confident that it’s going to happen," Harbaugh said of the interception drought for his secondary. "It’s progress, maybe a little bit. You start playing a little better [and] a little more confident. You’re not chasing routes as much. We’re getting there."

The Ravens' secondary has had plenty of opportunities. There have been 114 passes thrown in the direction of a Ravens defensive back this year, according to Pro Football Focus.

Last year, Ravens defensive backs recorded 12 interceptions. Over half of those interceptions are gone because cornerback Corey Graham (Buffalo Bills) and safety James Ihedigbo (Detroit Lions) signed elsewhere in free agency.

For that reason, it's legitimate to question the ball skills of the current defensive backs. The Ravens' starting secondary for the past past games -- cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson and safeties Matt Elam and Darian Stewart -- have a combined six career interceptions.

Harbaugh said interceptions are "the measuring stick" for a secondary.

"It’s not just about playing solid football. That’s expected in this league," Harbaugh said. "It’s about playing solid football and being able to make plays through your technique and through your responsibility. That’s what separates players, and that’s what gives them a chance to play more and make a career for themselves. We’re looking for guys to do that.”

Ravens report card vs. the Panthers

September, 29, 2014
Grading the Baltimore Ravens in their 38-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers:

Quarterback: This was Joe Flacco's second career game with over 300 yards passing, three touchdown passes and no interceptions (the other was Week 3 of 2011). He completed 71 percent of his throws as well as posting season highs in average yards per attempt (10.5) and passer rating (137.4). Some will say Flacco was lucky, but he was in a zone, knowing where he wanted to go with each throw especially on third down (10 of 13 conversions). Grade: A-plus.

[+] EnlargeJustin Forsett
Patrick Semansky/AP PhotoRavens running back Justin Forsett averaged 4.7 yards per carry against the Panthers on Sunday.
Running backs: Veteran journeyman Justin Forsett ran hard on every carry and broke a total of four tackles. His 11-yard touchdown run, which he broke through Luke Kuechly's arm tackle, was pure effort. Forsett gained 20 of his 66 yards after contact. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro was the closer with 32 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk nearly had a touchdown for the second straight week and had a strong game as a lead blocker. Grade: A.

Wide receivers/tight ends: Steve Smith was the headliner once again with seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Nearly half of his yards came after the catch. Not bad for a 35-year-old receiver. There was a Torrey Smith sighting. He had two catches for 53 yards (including a 24-yard touchdown) and drew two pass interference penalties that totaled 29 yards. Marlon Brown caught all three passes thrown his way for 31 yards. Jacoby Jones dropped his fourth pass of the season. Grade: A-minus.

Offensive line: The Ravens didn't give up a sack for a third straight game, and guard Marshal Yanda allowed the only hit on Flacco. The line was just as impressive in opening holes for a running game that gained 127 yards. Running backs gained 79 of those yards (or 62 percent) before getting touched. Yanda and center Jeremy Zuttah were dominant in run blocking. Rookie left tackle James Hurst held up well in his first career start, but he didn't get his blocks and got turned around at times in the run game. He didn't allow a quarterback hurry or hit. Grade: A-minus.

Defensive line: The Panthers weren't at full strength at running back, but it wouldn't have mattered based on the play of Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams up front. Their play was a big reason why the Panthers averaged 2.6 yards per carry. Chris Canty had his best game despite being questionable for the game with a knee injury. He was part of an inspired pass rush, recording a quarterback hurry and knocking down a pass. Grade: B-plus.

Linebackers: Rookie first-round pick C.J. Mosley was all over the field, stopping the run, playing coverage and rushing the passer. He finished with a season-high 11 tackles and broke up two passes. The Ravens crashed the edges with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, both of whom combined for two sacks. Suggs had two quarterback hits. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee delivered five quarterback hurries with an inside pass rush. Daryl Smith was strong in run support with eight tackles. Grade: B-plus.

Secondary: Jimmy Smith gets an "A" while the starting safeties get a "D." Smith shadowed Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers' top receiver, and gave up two catches for 25 yards. He even drew an offensive pass interference penalty. But he didn't get much support. Free safety Darian Stewart didn't provide deep help, which allowed Benjamin to get open for Carolina's only touchdown. He just lacks instincts in pass coverage. Cam Newton did make some excellent throws, but strong safety Matt Elam has to get a better feel on when the ball is coming. He doesn't turn in time. Grade: C.

Special teams: Sam Koch had only one punt, and it should have pinned Carolina at its own 2-yard line. But Albert McClellan's personal foul gave the Panthers some breathing room. Justin Tucker had six touchbacks, although he missed a 57-yard field goal. Jacoby Jones is pressing so much to make a play that he fielded a punt at his own 2-yard line in the first quarter. That's not playing smart. Grade: C-plus.
The Baltimore Ravens' struggling secondary received some good news Thursday when cornerback Jimmy Smith was a full participant in practice.

Smith, who is dealing with knee and ankle injuries, did not practice Wednesday. He has been the Ravens' best defensive back this season.

Running back Bernard Pierce (thigh) had a full practice for the second straight day. He missed his first NFL game last Sunday after starting the first two games for the Ravens.

Four Ravens didn't practice: lineabcker Terrell Suggs (thigh), defensive end Chris Canty (knee), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe.

The Ravens expect Monroe to miss the next few weeks, and undrafted rookie James Hurst will start at left tackle. The team also signed defensive end Lawrence Guy on Wednesday, a sign that the Ravens are concerned about Canty's status for Sunday.
Do you think Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is fan of cornerback Jimmy Smith?


"I’m a believer in Jimmy Smith. I believe Jimmy Smith is going to make history as a cornerback," Harbaugh said after Thursday's win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. "I believed that from the day he got here. I’ve watched him progress. He’s one of the most coachable, teachable, hard-working, smart, talented players you’re going to find. And you’re seeing the fruits of that labor."

This has to be the most glowing compliment Harbaugh has ever given to a Ravens player. I'm not sure if Harbaugh is pushing for an extension for Smith or trying to adopt the 2011 first-round pick.

Harbaugh's praise is warranted. In the first two games this season, Smith has only allowed five catches for 23 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. The longest pass completed against Smith has been eight yards.

Quarterbacks are only completing 55.6 percent of their passes against Smith and have a 60.9 passer rating when throwing at him.

Yes, it's extremely early to give Smith a Pro Bowl invitation. But he has put up these shutdown numbers while going against A.J. Green and Antonio Brown.

Smith, 26, turned the corner last season after making five starts in his first two seasons in the NFL. He broke up a career-high 16 passes while limiting some of the best receivers in the league.

The Ravens exercised their option on Smith, meaning they will pay him about $6.8 million in 2015 to keep him from becoming a free agent. In late July, Smith sounded pessimistic when asked if he thought he would get an extension before playing out the final year of his contract. But, based on Harbaugh's strong vote of confidence, the Ravens are obviously interested in keeping Smith for the long term.



Sunday, 1/25