The Ravens patchwork secondary – without Lardarius Webb and former first-round draft pick Jimmy Smith – performed admirably at Heinz Field last week against Byron Leftwich and the Steelers.
But the challenge for this group is about to get a whole lot tougher, beginning with this Sunday’s game at San Diego.
“It’s going to be tested against San Diego for sure,” coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week. “…I expect them to continue to hold up their end of it. They have done probably a better than expected job – better than you could probably expect any secondary to do under those circumstances.”
The Ravens face Philip Rivers and the Chargers on Sunday, and then could see Ben Roethlisberger next weekend in Baltimore. Even if Roethlisberger (shoulder, ribs) is unable to play, the Ravens face an impressive run of quarterbacks over the next month, including rookie Robert Griffin III with the Redskins followed by Peyton Manning of the Broncos and his brother, Eli, with the Giants.
That could be a tall order for a group decimated by injuries. Webb is out all season, and Smith, who underwent sports hernia surgery, is out indefinitely.
With Smith out, Corey Graham is expected to make his second straight start at cornerback in San Diego opposite Cary Williams. Graham was superb against the Steelers, with an interception, a pass breakup in the end zone and another across the middle when he hammered tight end Heath Miller.
The Ravens signed former Raider Chris Johnson as a free agent, but he was hurt in the first quarter at Heinz Field last Sunday in his first action of the season and is listed as doubtful for this week.
The fact that Johnson was immediately thrown into the nickel job against the Steelers, having just received his Ravens playbook a couple of days before, seems to say much about reserve corner Chykie Brown, whom Johnson essentially leap-frogged on the depth chart.
The Ravens, who espouse the philosophy that “you can never have too many cornerbacks,” suddenly don’t appear to have enough cornerbacks. Brown is likely to move in to the role of third corner/nickel back, and rookie Asa Jackson could see action as a dime back. Jackson, a fifth-round draft pick, has been on the roster all season but has yet to be active for a game.
It’s not exactly the secondary the Ravens drew up in August when they crafted the roster, but this patchwork group might be called upon early and often over the next month against some of the league’s best quarterbacks.