Earlier, on Festivus—December 23, for those of you unaware—the Baltimore Ravens officially ruled out cornerback Jimmy Smith after the veteran, and their top cover man, spent the week without practicing following an ankle injury that he suffered early in the team’s Week 14 game against the Patriots in Foxboro.
He has already missed one game due to the ankle, last week against the Eagles, and will miss this one, so there should be serious questions about whether or not he will even be able to return for the Ravens’ regular season finale. I believe I read that he was in a walking boot around the team facility on Friday.
That will pose a major problem for the Ravens going forward, including any hypothetical postseason trek, but it is a major boon for a Pittsburgh Steelers team licking its chops in anticipation of locking up the AFC North title tonight for the second time in the past three seasons, also securing their third consecutive playoff berth.
The primary beneficiary of Smith’s absence should be Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who spent much of his day in the team’s first matchup with the Ravens in Baltimore going up against their best cover cornerback whenever he was on the left side of the formation.
The Ravens tend to play their cornerbacks on sides more often than not, without shadowing, but with Shareece Wright and Tavon Young, the latter being a rookie, the chances of them moving their cornerbacks around too much is slim, meaning that the Steelers can pick and choose who they want to have Brown go up against and when.
Of course, when it comes to Brown and the Ravens, we know it’s not just about the cornerback position, because they, more than any other team than perhaps the Bengals, do everything they can to try to take him away, including a lot of safety help, and, at times, even rolling a linebacker for underneath coverage.
Smith’s absence complicates things for the Ravens, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee a big game for Brown. What it should guarantee is that the Steelers’ other receivers will benefit even more, because Baltimore will probably provide even more help to either Wright or Young, leaving whoever is playing opposite him with more one-on-one opportunities.
Admittedly, the Ravens’ secondary as a whole has played above expectations this year, including Eric Weddle as the big free agent signing and Lardarius Webb successfully transitioning from cornerback to safety. Young, a rookie fourth-round pick, has certainly played better than would be anticipated so far this year, though that doesn’t mean Brown can’t make him look every bit the rookie.
Oh, and having a healthy Ben Roethlisberger this time around will probably help quite a bit as well, as I wrote about earlier. Brown did have seven catches for 85 yards and a score last time around, but six of those catches, 81 of those yards, and the score all came after the Steelers were already trailing 21-0 in the fourth quarter.