Anthony Smith will get another chance to start at free safety Monday night, and that might not be encouraging news for some unsuspecting receiver for the Baltimore Ravens. Not if they saw some of Smith's big hits against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Receivers better account for him," said inside linebacker Larry Foote. "His name is getting out there. The film being put out there in the league, receivers see it and they know they better be thinking about it when they go across the middle."
Nobody felt it more than Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
On back-to-back plays in the third quarter, Houshmandzadeh was hammered on pass attempts in the open field by Smith, who was starting for injured Ryan Clark (inflamed spleen). Houshmandzadeh caught the first pass for a 13-yard gain, but was separated from the ball on the second when Smith drilled him from behind. After the second hit, Houshmandzadeh stood up and verbally accosted Smith, a second-year safety.
- Game: Ravens (4-3) vs. Steelers (5-2), 8:30 p.m.
- Where: Heinz Field.
- TV: WTAE, ESPN.
"I loved every minute of it," said linebacker James Farrior. "I love when our defensive backs hit like that. It just makes us a better team."
Houshmandzadeh caught seven passes against the Steelers, including a 9-yard touchdown, but he paid the price nearly every time he caught a pass across the middle.
"He didn't say too much," Smith said. "I don't think he really wanted that type of trouble."
The Steelers are hoping Smith will do much the same against the Ravens, who have played the past two games without quarterback Steve McNair and most of the past three games without tight end Todd Heap. Smith will again replace Clark, who is expected to miss his second game in a row with an inflamed spleen.
Clark has not practiced since he was injured Oct. 21 in Denver.
"I think it's a big factor," said Smith, a third-round choice from Syracuse in 2006. "When you have great receivers like they have and you get them looking for safeties and not the ball, that gets them out of their game. That throws their timing off and throws their routes off."
"Anthony played really well," Coach Mike Tomlin said of Smith's performance against the Bengals, in which he had a team-high eight tackles (seven solo). "He made some plays and separated a few people from some balls, not unlike what we expected from him. We are making a conscious effort to make sure he gets reps and continues to grow as a professional."
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau did that last season, too, trying to get Smith some playing time in the dime defense to get him acclimated to the speed of the NFL in general and the Steelers' defensive scheme in particular. He did the same thing with Troy Polamalu during his rookie season, knowing Polamalu would eventually be one of his starters the following year.
But when Clark was injured in Week 12, Smith stepped in and started the final four games, catching LeBeau's attention with two interceptions and a number of big hits in the secondary.
"Besides his tough, physical style, I think he has good range," Farrior said.
"That's probably what you want out of your free safety, a guy who can cover sideline to sideline."
Because of the way Smith ended the season, it was generally assumed he, not Clark, would be the starting free safety this season.
But Clark won the job in training camp, mainly because his style of not taking chances was a better fit with Polamalu, who plays closer to the line of scrimmage and is allowed to roam the field.
Smith admits he has to curb his aggressive, risk-taking style when he is paired with Polamalu because he is the last line of defense in the secondary.
Still, against the Ravens it is a chance for Smith to showcase his hard-hitting style and make other receivers take note of what Houshmandzadeh discovered the hard way.
"You go out there with controlled emotions and play hard," Smith said.
Asked if that is tough for him to do, he said: "Not at all. That's just what I do. That's my type of game. Now, if that's not in your character and you try to do that, emotions can take over. But that's just how I play."
Just call it controlled fury.
First Published November 2, 2007 4:00 AM