OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Against the Miami Dolphins Oct. 26, the Ravens showed a few different looks in their secondary, with Brandon Carr moving inside to slot corner, safety Tony Jefferson playing as a dime linebacker and both safeties simultaneously rushing the passer while slot corner Lardarius Webb peeled back to play safety.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees thrives on that kind of versatility and unpredictability, and he said Nov. 2 that this season, much more so than last year, the Ravens' secondary has the depth and talent to do that.
The secondary was the Ravens' biggest positional upgrade this offseason, as they signed Jefferson and Carr as free agents and drafted cornerback Marlon Humphrey with their first-round pick. Even after losing potential slot corners Tavon Young and Maurice Canady to knee injuries -- and Canady's return could be imminent -- the Ravens have a lot of options in the secondary.
"The more you can do that with different guys, and more packages … I think that's harder on an offense," Pees said at his weekly news conference Nov. 2.
"What I like ... is the look of guys in different spots, and so you can't count on this guy being there this week."
The Ravens rank No. 5 in the league in passing defense, allowing 184.5 yards a game through their air, but that number is skewed somewhat because teams have had so much success running on the Ravens. The Ravens' run defense, which suffered mightily while defensive tackle Brandon Williams missed four games with a foot injury, ranks 30th in the league.
Still, the secondary has excelled more often than not when tested. The Ravens lead the league with 12 interceptions, including nine by defensive backs, and Jimmy Smith has a pair of touchdowns -- one on a fumble return and one on an interception.
Defensive backs -- including hybrid safety/linebacker Anthony Levine -- have totaled six of the Ravens' 19 sacks.
The arrival of Humphrey has made an impact, Pees said, noting that there is little dropoff when the rookie comes in. That has allowed Carr, a veteran who has started 152 straight games, to move to the slot and show a different look. Webb has been the team's primarily slot corner this year, but teams have gone after the veteran, who was expected to be a backup safety before injuries to Young and Canady forced him into a larger role.
Canady, who is designated to return from injured reserve, is practicing again and is eligible to be added to the 53-man roster this week. Canady, a sixth-round pick last year, played four games as a rookie before landing on injured reserve, and then went down in training camp with a knee injury. He was moved to injured reserve after the 53-man roster was set, which allowed him to be designated to return.
"He's a very versatile guy," Pees said. "He's played nickel for us, he's played corner for us, he's played safety for us. So once we kind of get him back in the groove, I think we can find some places where we can plug him in and kind of move him around."
BOYLE, PIERCE REMAIN SIDELINED: Tight end Nick Boyle (toe) and defensive lineman Michael Pierce (illness) each missed practice for the second straight day, clouding their chances of playing at Tennessee Nov. 5. Others who remained sidelined were receivers Chris Matthews (thigh) and Michael Campanaro (shoulder), running back Terrance West (calf) and safety Chuck Clark (undisclosed). Receiver Jeremy Maclin, tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Vince Mayle were again wearing red noncontact vests, but Webb and center Ryan Jensen, who had worn noncontact vests Nov. 1, were not doing so the next day.
ROSBURG NOT PLEASED WITH PROTECTION: Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said he is "certainly concerned" about protection with Ravens special teams units. Justin Tucker had a 46-yard field-goal attempt blocked by the Dolphins last week, and the Ravens had a punt partially blocked by the Jacksonville Jaguars. There have been other close calls as well. "I'm certainly concerned about the amount of pressure we're allowing on both punt and field goal," Rosburg said. "We need to improve in that regard. … If there's anything that keeps special teams coaches awake at night it's protection."
TRICK OR TREAT?: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, echoing the sentiment of head coach John Harbaugh and Ravens players, praised the toughness of quarterback Joe Flacco, who returned to practice Nov. 1 after leaving the Dolphins game with a concussion. Flacco also suffered a gashed left ear on the hit by Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso, and Mornhinweg joked that Flacco could have used his stitched-up ear as a Halloween prop. "I told him, you got to pull that ear out Tuesday night on Halloween, that's a good one, man. … That would scare a bunch of kids." Flacco took the practice field again Nov. 2 without any incidents.