Rather than Anquan Boldin playing a supporting role in the passing attack, he has led the Ravens down the stretch.
That’s because after a fast start by Torrey Smith, the speedy No. 1 receiver who started out the season with a bang, has slowed.
In his second season, Smith had 5 TDs by Week 6, including 127 yards and 2 scoring catches in a 31-30 comeback victory against the New England Patriots less than 24 hours after his younger brother passed away.
The last eight games for Smith, however, have been relatively quiet. He has only 1 TD in that span and a total of 20 catches since Week 11, including last week’s 24-9 wild-card playoff win vs. the Indianapolis Colts.
“When we’re sharp, (when) we’re on, we’re great,” Smith said, referencing the 44-13 season-opening win vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. “When we’re not, we’re terrible. It’s really that simple. It’s no rocket science to it.”
Saturday, the Ravens rematch with the Denver Broncos in a divisional playoff game on the road. In their Dec. 16 game, Smith had only 1 catch for 14 yards as he was locked down by cornerback Champ Bailey. Boldin was held without a catch. Quarterback Joe Flacco had two turnovers in the first half that resulted in 10 points for Denver.
The Ravens’ inability to run the ball and Bailey’s physical nature made getting free difficult for Smith. The run can set up the pass, or vice versa. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined to rush for just 58 yards.
“Champ’s definitely physical. That’s just the way he plays. He can still run. He’s good. He’s smart. He’s good at anticipating things and understanding situations,” Smith said. “I don’t know how they’re going to play this time.”
That means a better game plan. With Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and Derek Wolfe, the Broncos lead the NFL in sacks and have the No. 2 overall defense. Flacco won’t have much time in the pocket.
“Quick passes whether its your (hot routes) because they’re blitzing or when you get the opportunity to take shots (deep), just making everything count to kind of keep them on their heels,” Smith said of the strategy needed to win the rematch. “Keep pressure on them because they have some pass rushers, and they’re dominant too.”
Smith has taken a back seat to Boldin, a 10th-year player who plays in the slot. Smith had just 2 catches for 31 yards in the playoff victory while Boldin had 5 for a franchise playoff-record 145 yards and 1 TD.
Smith’s struggles reflect an inconsistent offense as he has had trouble getting in sync with Flacco. Smith finished the regular season with 49 receptions, one fewer than his rookie season, 855 yards and 8 TDs. Boldin had team highs of 65 catches for 921 yards.
But Smith has found a way to impact games without catching. He made two key blocks in last week’s win. Smith pinned down Colts defensive back Cassius Vaughn on both occasions, clearing a path for Rice’s 47-yard catch-and-run to set up the first TD and Dennis Pitta’s catch-and-run for a 20-yard TD.
“You can’t play here if you don’t block. We have a guy here they just paid a lot of money to run the ball,” Smith said, alluding to Rice who signed a 5-year, $40 million deal before the season. “It’s all about being a team guy. Being a Raven you have to be physical.
“That’s the Number 1 thing (people) think of when they think of us. That’s not just our defense. That’s our offense as well. … Anquan is aggressive as they get as a receiver. There’s no one else like him in the league.”
The big plays likely will be there to be made vs. Bailey, but only if Flacco has the time and Smith can get free and make a long-awaited big play.