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Cohen’s Corner: A rookie will determine the Ravens playoff fate

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Green Bay Packers Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

As the Ravens’ 2017 season has progressed, the stage has gotten bigger and bigger. Ahead of the Ravens’ Sunday night game in Pittsburgh, I wrote that the Steelers in primetime would pose the biggest challenge Marlon Humphrey had faced this season.

Humphrey did an excellent job in that game, holding Antonio Brown to just two catches for seven yards on five targets according to Pro Football Focus. That is an excellent performance, especially considering who the rookie was covering, and the stage of the game.

Arguably the biggest reason why the Ravens lost that game in Pittsburgh was the poor play of Brandon Carr. Carr was absolutely burned by Brown, time and time again. After the game, defensive coordinator Dean Pees said “In retrospect, we probably should've done that” referring to putting Humphrey on Brown more instead of Carr.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

In Week 17, the Ravens won’t face their toughest test of the season, but they will be playing their most important game. As the Bengals come to Baltimore in Week 17, the playoffs are on the line. It’s win-and-in for the Ravens, or lose and hope for help. For the Ravens, the biggest deciding factor against a Bengals team that is no pushover, will be the play of the Ravens’ emerging rookie.

Hopefully, the Pittsburgh game will have taught Pees a lesson about how to handle superstar wide receivers. The Bengals certainly boast one those players, A.J. Green. I’m not expecting to see Humphrey shadowing Green, but I do expect to see Humphrey covering Green the majority of the time. Green has the ability to change a game, and if the Ravens are able to limit him, then they will more than likely win the game.

Yes, the Ravens shutout the Bengals in Week 1, but that was with Jimmy Smith spending most of the game on Green. Green still did have 74 yards, but the Ravens didn’t allow him to have any game altering plays. Without Smith in the lineup, Humphrey will be tasked with defending the star receiver.

Humphrey has what it takes to slow Green because of his size and athleticism. Humphrey is a long corner, something that will be needed against the tall Green. Humphrey also is physical and athletic enough to compete with Green for a jump ball. If Humphrey is able to limit the impact of Green, Andy Dalton is virtually out of options.

The biggest area in which Humphrey will be tested by Green is the deep ball. Defending the deep ball was the biggest flaw Humphrey possessed coming out of college, but with the exception of the Detroit game, Humphrey has vastly improved guarding deep passes. Against a big receiver with speed, Humphrey will get another big opportunity to show he has overcome that weakness.

NFL: International Series-Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Humphrey should get a change in Week 17 to serve as the Ravens number one corner. If he is able to culminate the great season he has had with a strong performance against Green, then the Ravens should win this game, clinch a wild card spot, and Humphrey will clinch his role as the number one corner for the Ravens, at least as long as Jimmy Smith isn’t on the field.