Despite the up-an-down nature of the end results for the Baltimore Ravens in recent weeks, one thing has been certain: the defense has been much more bearable to watch.
During the first half of the season, Baltimore’s secondary was an unsettling sight, from miscommunications, to head-scratching off coverage in short-yardage situations, to just flat out poor play.
But the secondary, particularly the cornerbacks, have worked to right the ship, and the results have been pleasant. Jimmy Smith has finally settled in (but is still not playing up to expectations), Lardarius Webb has been more consistent and Shareece Wright has performed well ever since an awful debut against the San Francisco 49ers.
The cornerbacks have played with more energy and physicality, and the defense has reaped the benefits, as the secondary as a whole has played more settled and with more precision. That is not to say the secondary is playing well on a consistent basis per se, but in comparison to September and October, the whole secondary has improved.
Having consistent cornerback play helps the defense in all aspects. Let’s take a look at how some of the Ravens cornerbacks have stepped up their game.
For Smith, he entered the season as a player ready to take charge of the secondary as the team’s go-to press cornerback, an ability he displayed before his injury in 2014. But it was not until recent weeks that he finally regularly displayed this trait in 2015.
Against Miami last week, Smith was lined up one-on-one on the outside with DeVante Parker in a press coverage situation.
With no safety help prior to the snap, it is imperative that Smith does not let Parker gain early separation.
Smith cancels out this option for Tannehill by not only turning and running with the receiver, but also using his allotted five yards to initiate contact off the snap. This prevents Parker from gaining any ground on a quick-hitting pass play.
As the quarterback releases the pass, Smith has matched Parker stride for stride, and has completely blanketed his opposition, making it so that only a perfect throw would be catchable. A slightly off-target throw makes this an easy finish for Smith.
Short-yardage press coverage is one of Smith’s best traits when he is playing to his ability. He has the length and physicality to match receivers on these short plays; he just has not consistently achieved this in 2015. But during the second half of the season, Smith has returned to his roots as a press corner.
Another cornerback who has fared well against short throws has been Wright, who has displayed an aptitude for press coverage.
Against Cleveland, Wright is in man coverage on the outside.
As the Browns run two routes on top of each other, it would be easy for a defender to get tangled up in the crowd and lose his man, but Wright stays the course and keeps a tight coverage on his receiver.
With the receiver working toward the middle of the field, Wright not only continues to run step-for-step, but also maintains his eyes on the quarterback.
This allows Wright to be more than prepared for the throw, which results in him perfectly timing the pass deflection.
Consistency against short throws has been one of the strong points for the Baltimore secondary during recent games, something that could not be said earlier in the year.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, the improved play is too little, too late as the team is out of the playoff picture. Nonetheless, with four games remaining, continuing to see each cornerback improve his game can lead to a positive outlook heading into the offseason as the team gears up for a rebound year in 2016.