Coming off a bye week that gave players a few extra days of rest and recovery, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said he is "pretty confident" cornerback Jimmy Smith, linebacker Patrick Onwuasor and rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown will be available for the Nov. 3 "Sunday Night Football" showdown between the Ravens (5-2) and the undefeated New England Patriots (8-0) at M&T Bank Stadium.
"They're on track," Harbaugh said at his weekly news conference Oct. 28 as the Ravens returned to work after their Week 8 bye. "We'll see how it goes this week. I'm pretty confident that they'll be there, but you never know."
Smith has not played since sustaining a sprained knee early in the season opener. The nine-year veteran, who has battled injuries throughout his career, "had a really good training camp," Harbaugh said, "so if we could get him back that would be huge for us. I am excited about it. I hope it works out."
Onwuasor (ankle) and Brown (foot) missed the past two games after each was injured in the Ravens' Week 5 win at Pittsburgh.
Onwuasor has been a starter at inside linebacker and leads the Ravens with 30 tackles despite missing two games. Brown, the rookie first-round draft pick, is the Ravens' top big-play threat on offense. He ranks second on the team with 21 catches for 326 yards, and his 15.5-yard average per catch leads the team.
Smith's return would boost a defense that has had an impressive midseason makeover, with four in-season additions moving into major roles as the Ravens reeled off three straight wins after a 2-2 start.
Linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort have started the past two games after being signed as free agents in early October, and defensive end Jihad Ward, signed earlier this month as well, played a season-high 39 snaps in the win at Seattle and figures to have a larger role after Pernell McPhee lost for the season with a triceps injury.
Then Peters was acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in a trade that sent linebacker Kenny Young and a fourth-round draft pick to the Rams.
Smith's injury is one of many that have hit a secondary that this summer was considered one of the deepest in the league. But top nickel back Tavon Young (neck), safety Tony Jefferson (knee), safety DeShon Elliott (knee), rookie cornerback Iman Marshall (toe) and safety and special teamer Brynden Trawick (elbow) are all on injured reserve.
Smith and cornerback Maurice Canady have missed time as well.
In light of those injuries, the Ravens traded for Peters and he paid immediate dividends with a 67-yard interception return touchdown in the Ravens' 30-16 win at Seattle.
The return of Smith would give the Ravens a veteran rotation of Smith, Peters, Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr at corner, which should keep each of them fresh later into games and later into the season. Carr also spent some time at safety in training camp, and defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt didn't rule out Carr seeing time there.
"Brandon is cool as a fan," Hewitt said last week as he and the Ravens prepared to break for the bye.
"Anything that you throw at him. 'Hey Brandon, I need you to play safety.' 'Cool.' 'I need you to play nickel.' 'Cool.' He can handle all of those positions."
HARBAUGH: PATRIOTS BUOYED BY DOMINANT, 'OLD-SCHOOL' DEFENSE: Tom Brady is Tom Brady, but the Patriots this year are generating headlines with their defense, which ranks No. 2 overall and No. 1 in scoring, allowing 7.6 points a game. No team has scored more than 14 against them.
One story line this week certainly will be the Patriots' No. 4-ranked run defense against the Ravens' No. 1-ranked rushing offense led by quarterback Lamar Jackson.
In addition, the Patriots lead the league with 19 interceptions -- nearly twice as many as any other team.
"They are creating an incredible amount of turnovers, especially early in games," Harbaugh said.
"They are an old-school defense," he added. "They're a big, strong defense, they play straight ahead, they play square, they lock out, they get off blocks, they keep their eyes on their responsibility. ... They have cover guys back there that can cover exceptionally well."
"It's just a very solid defense," Harbaugh said. "A very physical defense, too."
HARBAUGH: BRADY AMONG BEST EVER AT DISSECTING DEFENSE: Harbaugh has seen plenty of Tom Brady over the years, and the Ravens have had Brady's number at times. But Harbaugh said what sets Brady apart is his presnap analysis.
"He and Peyton Manning are probably the two best ever at dissecting the defense intellectually and knowing where to go with the ball, knowing where he wants to go with the ball, setting himself up presnap to have that throw, getting the ball out and getting it out very accurately and quickly. ... That's what makes him who he is."
HARBAUGH MUM ON ANY MORE TRADES: The Ravens have already acquired cornerback Marcus Peters for linebacker Kenny Young and a fourth-round pick, and but as for any other Ravens deals in the final 24 hours before the Oct. 29 deadline, Harbaugh said, "I know there's a lot of talk, but I don't really know the details of too much of it. We'll see what happens."
Harbaugh acknowledged it has been a busier trade market leaguewide compared to previous years, and he said that general manager Eric DeCosta "keeps me pretty up to date on what's possible."