Cary Williams (age 27) and Jimmy Smith (age 22) have been thrust into a high-pressure role as starting cornerbacks for the Baltimore Ravens (6-2). That's largely due to the season-ending injury to Pro Bowl quality corner Lardarius Webb (ACL). But it also has a lot to do with the struggling front seven of the Ravens' defense. Giving up the run without getting substantial pressure on opposing quarterbacks is putting more pressure on the corners...and tending to magnify any mistakes WIlliams and Smith do make.
Jimmy Smith (left) and Cary Williams have had up and down moments at cornerback so far in 2012...but are improving with experience...and it doesn't hurt that Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are working their way back into healthy game shape, which bodes well for the Ravens pass rush.
Cary Williams is a nice surprise providing emergency depth at cornerback. At 6-1,190, in his 5th year out of Washburn College, Williams was signed by the Ravens back in 2009 off the practice squad of the Tennessee Titans. Used primarily as a special teams guy in 2009 and 2010, Williams got more of a role in the nickel and dime coverage units of the Ravens in 2011 and actually defensed 18 passes and made 61 tackles.
This year he has been an invaluable plug'n'play guy at cornerback, with 44 tackles, 4 INT's including one for a 63-yard TD return, a sack, and 7 passes defensed over the first eight games.
Williams and Smith face a big test in their next game---Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders are going to throw the ball at them...a lot!
As Ryan Mink put it so well for the Ravens.com site: "Is Baltimore’s secondary, which ranks 22nd in the NFL (246.8 yards per game), up to the test?"
Head Coach John Harbaugh said he saw improvement in Sunday’s game in Cleveland.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden completed just 20 of 37 passes for 176 yards. He went 20-for-25 for 320 yards in his first meeting with the Ravens, and that’s when cornerback Lardarius Webb was still on the field.
“We did see growth. We did a better job,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not just the secondary, it’s the whole coverage package.”
Harbaugh said the Ravens still need to continue to build on picking up underneath routes, which are primarily handled by linebackers or safeties. They also need to do a better job of maintaining eye discipline down the field.
But starting cornerback Williams has rebounded from a rough start to notch four interceptions in his past five games and Smith is getting more experience under his belt. He didn’t surrender any deep completions, or double moves, to Cleveland.
“Cary is a competitor. Cary is a fighter,” Harbaugh said. “Cary wants to do well so badly, and he’s kind of an emotional guy, and that’s one of the things that I love about him."
“He’s done a great job of focusing that emotion and that energy on playing technique, where you’ve got to do everything exactly right. You’ve got to play with so much discipline out there. He’s got great skills, so to me, he just keeps getting better, and I’m proud of him.”
Williams will likely see a lot of action this Sunday. Palmer has the fifth-most passing attempts in the NFL. His 2,355 passing yards are the 10th-most in the NFL, only five yards behind the Falcons’ Matt Ryan. Last Sunday Palmer attempted 61 passes against Tampa Bay. Palmer partially threw so much because the Raiders were playing from behind for nearly the entire second half. It was also because Oakland didn’t have a healthy running back.
Starter Darren McFadden and backup Mike Goodson both suffered high ankle sprains in the game. Their status for Sunday’s game in Baltimore is in question. The Raiders have just one other running back on the roster, speedster Taiwan Jones out of Eastern Washington. Jones has 17 career rushing attempts for 75 yards (4.4 yard average).
So Williams and Smith better oil up their cleats...Carson Palmer is going to be running them in a track meet on Sunday.