After several missed tackles and a few blown coverages last week in New England Baltimore Ravens corner back Chykie Brown, who had shown the potential for good play at the NFL level, was replaced by second year, first round draft pick Jimmy Smith. Smith spent the majority of his NFL career either injured or relieved to special teams duties because he was unable to master the change of pace to the NFL level. Brown was a late season replacement when the Ravens were running a bit thin at the corner position and showed some promise towards the end of the year,
Playing a team like the Patriots is never easy for any corner. New England has specialized receivers in which they have specialized packages for designed to reach each players maximum potential in each offensive possession. Brown visually frustrated fellow corner Corey Graham on a third down goal line play in which the Raven secondary gave up an easy touchdown to Wes Welker. It seemed that Brown was responsible for the out route and the Patriots simply had two players criss-cross at the line which seemed to freeze the young corner leaving the out route to the end zone wide open for the easy score.
Later in the game Brown was unable to come up with key tackles in the backfield when the Ravens were in man coverage and he let his man slip around him with a few simple head jerks for big gains. His inability to become effective against the screen and perhaps the fact that Smith was once again healthy enough to play lead to his benching and Smith entering the game.
As bad as that game was for Brown, as we said earlier, they were playing the Patriots. An offense the strives on misdirection and taking advantage of one on one coverages at the line of scrimmage. Truth be told, perhaps Smith may have been the better choice to start this game from the beginning considering, even with his occasional mental lapses on the field, he is a sure tackler at the line of scrimmage and handles screens well with his tough, physical play at the line.
Both players have good size for their position. Jimmy Smith stands 6'2" and weighs in at 205 lbs while Chykie Brown stands 6'0" and 190 lbs. so neither would have been the best option to cover a small, quick receiver like Wes Welker. Truth be told that is where Ravens star corner Lardarius Webb has excelled in the past, playing the slot receiver and blowing up screen plays with his quickness and sure tackling, but Jimmy Smith has the ability to stonewall a receiver at the line and, at times, can be a shut down cover corner down field, if he guesses right. The problem with Smith has been that far too often he guesses wrong and finds himself out of place for big plays to be made, couple that with the fact that he, as usual, was coming off of an injury in which he had only seen the field on special teams and you can see why defensive coordinator chose to start Brown over Smith to begin with.
In the Super Bowl the Ravens will be challenged to cover three very large and very physical receivers in Michael Crabtree (Colin Kaepernick's favorite Target), tight end Vernon Davis and aging super star Randy Moss. All three are big, all three are fast and each player represents their own set of skills to keep defenses on their toes.
Ravens corner Corey Graham has had a tremendous post season thus far but is a bit under-sized to man up on any of these three players for the entire game so perhaps instead of going with either Smith or Brown the Ravens can use both larger corners to match up height with height to give themselves somewhat of an advantage. Of course that would mean sitting, perhaps, the Ravens biggest play-maker in the secondary this post season so i doubt that they would start with this philosophy, although nothing would surprise me.
Baltimore may again try the hot hand and go with Brown, hoping that the Patriots game was simply a learning experience for the young corner, although I'm sure he would be on a short leash in such a high profile game in which he is sure to be targeted as the teams weak link early and often. Or, the team could go with Smith, hoping that his youth and strength could be the deciding factor in keeping a guy like Randy Moss from getting down field or even matching him up on the tight end Davis in stead of using a safety or linebacker who would almost surely get beat by the speedster.
In either case these are the little chess matches that are played on the field between coordinators that could be the difference in a three and out or long sustained scoring drive in which a member of the opposing offense simply can't be stopped due to a mis-match. this is why we hire these NFL masterminds to make these decisions for us. I'm not sure what the right answer is but hopefully Dean Pees does and that could be the difference in the game when all is said and done.