For a great part of the season past, mention of the Ravens secondary would draw scorn, derision and many a curse word. Because the defense was a work in progress for much of the season, many of those sentiments seemed deserved at the time. Yet as the play of the defensive unit improved, so did the performance of the defensive backfield, peaking with a great performance against the New England Patriots in the wild card round (if you thought the peak was the home game against the Chicago Bears, remember-Jay Cutler at that time was a pick waiting to happen). That said, here’s the positional review of the Ravens cornerbacks and safeties.
Domonique Foxworth-Let’s keep it real here-Foxworth never really played up to his contract. That said, he did show improvement as the season went along. But for a bad game against the Indianapolis Colts, his second half of the season was much better than the first half. His improvement paralleled the rise of the defense. While no one would confuse him with being a shutdown corner last season, a look at the stats finds him fifth on the team in tackles and tied with Dawan Landry for the team lead in interceptions. He also led the team in passes defensed, but that may have been because teams kept throwing at him.
Fabian Washington-Average would be the word that describes Washington’s play, and that was all before he got hurt and missed the remainder of the season. He and Foxworth were the main targets of fan criticism when the Ravens defense was struggling, and not without cause. Washington’s main attribute was his speed, as neither he nor Foxworth are very big corners, which meant that if the quarterback was given time to find a big target, he usually did with one or the other of the Ravens corners either hanging on for dear life or getting beat. It has been rumored that Washington, should he remain in Baltimore will become a nickel back, which would allow for the continued emergence of…
Lardarius Webb-In his rookie season, Webb seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough until he also went down with an injury and missed the remainder of the season. Once Webb was able to get on the field, he gave the defensive backfield a spark-it was so noticeable that fans were asking why he was held out of the lineup for so long. He was brought along slowly, first on special teams and then was given kick return duties, where he immediately proved his worth returning on kickoff for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos. At the time of his injury, he was starting opposite Foxworth at a corner spot and had performed admirably. If he can return in time for training camp, I don’t doubt that he can regain the starting position.
Chris Carr-Seemed tentative at first, but began to make plays as the season went along. Got better also at returning punts, particularly once he was relieved of kickoff return duties. Carr is still young enough that if he works at his technique he can be an asset to the secondary; but I’m not sure if the Ravens will ever look to put him in a starting role unless absolutely necessary.
Frank Walker-After spending most of the season as the player no one wanted to see on the field, Walker did have a couple good games towards the end of the season. His high point was definitely the playoff game against the Patriots-there Walker was making plays. That said, he often was an illegal contact or pass interference penalty waiting to happen. If the Ravens upgrade at corner, he may be the odd man out.
Ed Reed-I’ll start here: if Reed does indeed retire, in five years he will walk right into Canton. Of course, I’m hoping he doesn’t. Reed is still the defense’s most electrifying playmaker, even if he wasn’t at one hundred percent. Many have criticized his penchant for freelancing and gambling on certain plays, but when his guesses are correct, there isn’t a better ballhawk in the NFL. I say all of that to say that despite his Pro Bowl nod, this was not one of Reed’s best seasons, at least not by his otherworldly standards. Reed also missed several games due to injuries, which one has to assume is factoring into the retirement talk. One hopes that Reed returns, and that whatever decision he makes is best for him and his family.
Dawan Landry-Coming off a major injury that shortened his 2008 season, Landry seemed tentative at the beginning of the season, but improved as the season went on. Landry may have had the best season out of all the players in the secondary, at least by the statistics. Landry finished second on the team in tackles (behind Ray Lewis) and tied with Foxworth for the team lead in interceptions. It is my opinion that Landry began to trust his body and his game more as he put the injury further and further into the past. The fact that he made it through the season without another injury setback bodes well for him to return full-bore in 2010.
Tom Zbikowski-Zbikowski played very solid football filling in while Reed was injured. While he may not have Reed’s great skills, he didn’t embarrass himself while out on the field. If Reed walks away, he may become the starting free safety, which would not be all that bad.
It will be interesting to see what decisions the Ravens will make regarding the secondary for 2010. Will they look to upgrade at cornerback? Will they have to replace a certain hall-of-famer at free safety? Time will tell.