Sunday was quite a different experience for Baltimore Ravens fans as they filled the seats at M&T Bank Stadium. As fans were filing into the Stadium to watch their beloved Ravens take on the division rival Cincinnati Bengals there were murmurs filling the air about the status of all-pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis. I heard everything from "He's playing, thank god!" to "Who needs him, let the younger faster guys play!" Most fans took caution in predicting the outcome of the game because their team has had a bit of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona so far this season. Not to mention they might be missing the future Hall Of Famer roaming the middle of the field on defense.
As it turns out, Lewis did not play. However, there was a duo of future stars that took the spotlight off the injured linebacker. Jimmy and Torrey Smith, the Ravens first and second round draft picks showed up in thunderous fashion. Torrey had six receptions for 165 yards with a long of 49 and a 27.5 average per reception... and a touchdown. Jimmy, playing in his first significant role this season, played very well in press coverage and had an interception with a 16 yard return and three tackles to boot. A fine day for both players even though Jimmy did fumble the interception return and got beat badly on a nine route for a touchdown later in the game. (more on that later)
Every week Torrey Smith looks better and better. This week we saw some new routes thrown into the mix for Torrey. Smith had several stop routes between the numbers in the Bengals game. He actually got some YAC on one of them. Not easy to do when you have to stop and turn to catch the ball. He is not just a deep threat. Smith caught the ball in traffic, on the run as well and nearly broke free for a huge gain. Nobody is catching this kid in the open field, nobody. Torrey Smith is changing the dynamic of the Ravens offense. Teams can no longer sit on our out routes and crossing routes. They must respect our ability to go vertical and with Lee Evans coming back it will only help the situation. It is now up to Cam Cameron and John Harbaugh to exploit what other teams must do to respect our big play ability. This should work out perfectly for Anquan Boldin and our duo of young tight ends!
I was very excited to go to this game because earlier in the week I heard Chuck Pagano say that Jimmy Smith will be getting "significant playing time". I have been waiting all season to hear those words. Not because of lack of faith in our other two starting corners but because Jimmy brings a totally different skill set to the table. Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb have done a great job this season and in no way am I saying Jimmy should come in and start right away but Smith will be a shut down corner in the NFL. There were several plays where Smith did not allow his man to get a yard off the line of scrimmage with his press coverage. I have not seen that since the Chris McAlister days. He is big, strong and fast and he knows how to cover. Do not let that long touchdown to Andre Caldwell fool you, This kid played a hell of a game. Especially for his first "real" contest.
So with Ray Lewis out I was looking for Dannell Ellerbe or Jameel McClain to step up but it was these two rookies that stole the show. McClain had a pretty good day as well but the Bengals did gain almost 500 yards in offense against us. In the end the two Smiths came through when we needed them most. They gave us a glimpse of what is to come with life after Lewis and maybe it wont be as bad as everyone thinks it will be.