How will the Ravens try to defend Aaron Rodgers?
When the Ravens square off with the Packers at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will complete passes. That much is certain. But what happens after that? That might go a long way toward determining whether the Ravens can shut down the Packers offense.
Packers receivers rank fifth in the league in yardage after the catch this season, with 164.3 yards a game. Against Washington in Week 2, the Packers piled up 295 yards after the catch, the most ever recorded in the 20 years such records have been kept.
For the Ravens, the challenge is twofold: First, limit the opportunities Rodgers has with his talented cast of receivers -- starring Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley. Second, contain them once they do make the catch.
"We have a pretty good tackling secondary," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "That's pretty much our focus, to make sure when they do catch the ball -- because they will make plays -- to make sure we get them down on the ground and don't allow those big runs after the catch."
The Ravens have had tackling issues at times in the secondary. That might have been one reason that veteran safety Michael Huff was benched in place of rookie Matt Elam. Smith and Lardarius Webb, the starters at cornerback, will need to be on their game in terms of one-on-one tackles in the open field. Ditto for Corey Graham, who figures to get extensive action as the nickel back.
Cobb ranked 12th in the league last year in yards after the catch with 479. Nelson (6-3, 217) and Finley (6-5, 247) can be a load to bring down, but the 6-foot-2 Smith has been playing the best football of his career this season. The former first-round pick has the size and physical ability to press and stay with bigger receivers.
"When you’re a big corner, that’s quite a tool you have when you can play physical and get your hands on guys,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said last month, who has praised Smith's increased consistency this season. "He is big, he’s got long arms, and you’ve just got to keep working on that.”