Thursday 14th December, 2017
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ravens-like-their-secondary-depth

Ravens like their secondary depth

Sports Xchange - Thursday 7th December, 2017

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens' secondary has been the strength of the team.

Now, that group faces a critical test without its top playmaker for Sunday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in the previous game against the Lions. He was also suspended four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

As a result, the Ravens (7-5) will rely on Brandon Carr and rookie Marlon Humphrey to start on the outside against the Steelers' Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is confident his team has enough depth to overcome the loss of Smith.

"Our secondary is playing at a really high level," Harbaugh said Wednesday. "It will be tested in this game against their players and their scheme. So, we look forward to it. How we fare is yet to be determined. We'll have to prove that on the field."

In addition to Carr and Humphrey, a pair of young cornerbacks, Jaylen Hill and Maurice Canady, will get more opportunities. Canady has overcome a knee injury he suffered in training camp to make an impact. Hill, an undrafted rookie, played his way onto the team with a solid preseason and now has an opportunity make plays when the games count.

Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste was also promoted from the practice squad.

"We are much better able to handle the injury to Jimmy," Harbaugh said. "We are much better able to handle that than we have been in the past."

Baltimore caught a break when Pittsburgh rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was suspended for the game after a hard block on Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict on Monday night.

The Steelers beat Baltimore 26-9 in the first meeting on Oct 1. With Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams out of the lineup with a foot injury, Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell amassed 144 yards with two touchdowns. Baltimore's run defense has been much improved since Williams returned from the injury.

Pittsburgh has run away with the AFC North, and is trying to keep pace with New England for the best record in the conference. The Steelers could wrap up the division title and a playoff berth Sunday against Baltimore.

The Ravens have won three consecutive games for the first time since the beginning of the 2016 season. Baltimore currently has the sixth and final spot in the AFC playoffs, but has the opportunity to improve its seeding, especially with the Kansas City Chiefs struggling.

The stakes are high once again for both teams.

"It's a great rivalry," Harbaugh said. "We love playing in it. It's the most physical game we play every single year. It's always tough coming out of the game in that you're going to have a lot of bumps and bruises for sure. We have respect for them."

SERIES HISTORY: 44th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 23-20. Pittsburgh has won the past two games in this heated rivalry after losing four straight. The Steelers picked up a 26-9 victory in Week 4 in Baltimore. The teams have split the last 22 meetings. Pittsburgh, which is riding a seven-game winning streak, also owns a 3-1 record over Baltimore in the postseason.

--Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon is playing as well as anyone on the defense.

After not registering a sack in the first five games, Judon has four sacks in the past four games.

That stellar performance has coincided with the Ravens' three-game winning streak. Baltimore is tied for seventh in the NFL with 32 sacks.

"Matt continues to improve," Harbaugh said. "He has played well all year. Whenever he got the sacks, I didn't even know when it was. He has been playing very well all year. I do think he continues to improve every single day.

"I have said it before: I think he is a star in the making because of how hard he works, how smart he is and how talented he is. We will just have to see how it plays out. I sure hope it works out that way for the Ravens and for Matt."

--Patrick Ricard is the Ravens' "newfound weapon" on offense.

Originally signed to add depth on the defensive line, the undrafted rookie also gets opportunities at fullback. He recorded his first career touchdown against the Lions on Sunday.

"Patrick has good hands," Harbaugh said. "It was really no doubt in our minds that he would catch it if we threw it to him. That play has been in (the playbook) the whole season. We have other plays for him that are in, too, so stay tuned. He has good hands. He is really a pretty darn good athlete."

Ricard, who played at Maine, had not scored a touchdown since his senior year in high school. He is just thrilled to be getting an opportunity in Baltimore.

"When I first signed here I just wanted to make the team," Ricard said. "If they wanted me for my effort, they were going to get that. They wanted me to play fullback and defensive line so it's exciting. I never thought I'd be the fullback for the Ravens. If you told me that my sophomore year of high school I wouldn't have believed that. I just scored a touchdown today though, and it's unbelievable."

NOTES: CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste was signed from the practice squad. The Ravens needed depth after Jimmy Smith was suspended and placed on injured reserve. ... RB Alex Collins, who suffered a migraine after Sunday's game, was not listed on the injury report Wednesday. He leads the team with 705 rushing yards with four touchdowns. Collins will likely play against Pittsburgh on Sunday night. ... LB C.J. Mosley (ankle) was not able to practice Wednesday. He has been dealing with the injury for the past two weeks, but has been able to play. Mosley also suffered a stinger in each of the past two games, but was able to return each time. He leads the team with 101 tackles and also has a sack and two interceptions. ... LB Za'Darius Smith (shoulder) was held out of practice on Wednesday. It's unclear when he suffered the injury. Smith has 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks this season.

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