Heading into Baltimore’s tussle with the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, little was known about the cornerback situation. The Ravens had just three active cornerbacks, with two – Danny Gorrer and Tramain Jacobs – playing their first games in purple and black this regular season.
Lardarius Webb was the lone incumbent, and Gorrer provided some certainty (albeit minimal) based on his play with the Detroit Lions earlier in the year. But with Gorrer having less than a week of prep, as well as no regular season reps for Jacobs, what should we have expected?
It was assumed that Gorrer would see extensive playing time as he is a veteran and has already played with the Ravens. That was the case on Sunday as he played much of the game, finishing with 33 defensive snaps in a fairly solid 2014 Ravens debut.
But who would be the third cornerback behind Webb and Gorrer? Would Jacobs earn some playing time in his first NFL game or would the Ravens roll a safety over to corner to fill the void?
The latter turned out to be the case.
Jacobs didn’t even touch the field on defense, but safety Anthony Levine certainly did. Entering the game with just five defensive snaps on the year, Levine broke out for a 43 snap performance at cornerback.
Levine had hardly touched the field as a defender during his career prior to Sunday’s game, but based on his play, you wouldn’t have even known it was his first game of extensive playing time, at cornerback nonetheless.
Thrown into the fire without much in-game experience at the position, Levine played as if he had been a cornerback all along. In fact, his diverse performance was good enough to think: why weren’t the Ravens using him at cornerback earlier in the season?
A healthy Jimmy Smith made Levine’s services less needed, but albeit just after one game, Levine’s performance makes him appear to be a better option at cornerback than Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks ever were for the team at any point this season.
Levine displayed quick closing speed, relentless pursuit and inherent discipline against the run. He offered the complete package on Sunday, and perhaps coverage wasn’t even the aspect in which he stood out the most.
Let’s take a look at some of Levine’s key plays from his most notable performance of his career.
As noted, while Levine did perform well in coverage, some of his key stops against the run are what made him flash early in the game.
With no receiving option on his side of the field, Levine is forced to play against the run. With the rush in his direction, Levine must occupy the outside as well as the lane between his two blocked teammates.
Levine stops in his tracks as he notices the running back cut back and head toward the lane between the two Titans blockers.
The defender’s ability to quickly diagnose the change of direction by the ball carrier allows him to react and move toward the lane in time.
The quick reaction by Levine seals the run lane and forces the running back to the outside.
With his change of direction ability on display, Levine reacts to the ball carrier and gets an early pursuit to the new run lane.
Before the running back even has time to fully bounce to the outside, Levine has already sealed off the edge and closed in on the play.
Levine’s gap discipline allows him to position himself on the edge in enough time to meet the running back on the perimeter, ultimately bringing him down for a one-yard gain.
During a similar situation later in the first quarter, Levine again put his reaction time, change of direction, gap discipline and finishing ability on display to allow only one yard.
Here, an end around by wide receiver Kendall Wright forces Levine to take a wide angle to occupy the outside while also being wary of a potential cutback by the ball carrier to the middle of the field.
Wright chooses to take the play to the outside, and before he even makes it around his blocker, Levine has already reacted in more than enough time.
Notice the ankle flexion of Levine to allow him to switch directions so quickly.
This allows Levine to reach the outside before Wright does, leading to a two-man tackle by Levine and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs for a minimal gain.
Not bad for someone with almost no prior defensive experience, huh?
While defending the run produced some of Levine’s most impressive plays, he was no slouch in coverage.
Remember how we said that Levine was the complete package?
Well, plays like this make it easy to classify him as such.
Levine defended the run well, showed quality playmaking ability running free off the edge and also covered well as a traditional cornerback in man coverage.
His most notable coverage play came at the end of the second half, when he almost ended up with an interception.
As the wide receiver makes his break toward the sideline, Levine matches him stride for stride, and successfully cuts on the route before the receiver even completes his change of direction.
This allows Levine to jump the route, cut underneath the receiver and gain positioning as the ball is in the air.
With the ball a bit more than halfway to the receiver, Levine is already in prime position.
Levine’s positioning over the intended target allows him to box the receiver out with his body and reach his hand out to make a play.
This play should have resulted in an easy interception for the cornerback (can we call him a cornerback now?).
Levine didn’t force the turnover, however a deflection is a bad result, either.
When it comes to complete performances, Levine produced the best game by a member of the Ravens secondary not named Jimmy Smith this season.
Levine did it all, and the fact that he was essentially making his defensive debut makes his performance even more impressive.
Is he now a viable option at cornerback?
It appears as if he at least deserves some snaps with the current cornerback situation the team has. If Sunday’s performance is any indication of what’s to come from Levine, don’t be surprised if he’s a regular in Baltimore’s secondary for the remainder of the season.
Levine only has one game of extensive defensive tape to his name, but a damn good game nonetheless.
For once the Ravens have a glimmer of hope at the cornerback position, something that hasn’t been said often this season.