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Sean Smith making case to stay with Raiders

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Often criticized Oakland Raiders cornerback Sean Smith is playing exceptionally well right now. Should the team keep him for 2018?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight year, Oakland Raiders cornerback Sean Smith has come back and played well after he was benched for letting bombs get dropped on him. Getting benched twice in two years with the money he makes isn’t exactly a case to keep him. But this year, he came back from his benching to be a shutdown CB. And yes, defensive coordinator John Pagano has a lot to do with how he’s playing now.

The bump-and-run CB doesn’t fit former DC Ken Norton Jr.’s zone scheme. And when he was in man coverage, he was often mismatched against smaller, more agile speedsters.

When Pagano took over, he started having him follow the opposing team's’ biggest receiver and play more aggressive on shorter routes. Pagano also runs more Cover-2 man looks so Smith can afford to do that.

It was Week 12 when Pagano took over the defensive play calling and since then, Smith ranks eighth in passer rating allowed among CB’s (36.3) according to Pro Football Focus.

Before Pagano, Smith ranked 109 in passer rating allowed (120.8). Overall, his passer rating allowed is 79.8 as he is tied for first in the NFL in catches allowed (25).

What’s impressive is the list of WR’s Pagano had him shadow and shut down of late. In Week 12, Smith held Denver Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas to three catches for 15 yards on six targets. In Week 15, he had more catches than Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant had on him, with Smith putting up two interceptions while Bryant had one catch for 40 yards on three targets with Smith defending him. Then last week against the Eagles he completely shut Alshon Jeffery out with nothing thrown his way.

That’s the play of an elite CB, what general manager Reggie McKenzie paid him all that money for. This week, he’ll be matched up against Los Angeles Chargers WR Keenan Allen.

“Keenan, seeing him every day and seeing his work ethic and seeing how he runs routes, he’s a tough match for all our guys.” Pagano said Wednesday when asked about the matchup. “We’re going to have to go out there and be sound on our technique and our fundamentals. They do a great job of... Keenan is a great route runner, but also they will attack you downfield, so you have to be prepared for that.”

If Smith can shut Allen down, that would add to the case to keep him as a part of the plan going forward. It further shows that he’s flourishing in a system he fits and just how good he is when he’s used right. Of course, he still has to make it out of the trail he has for allegedly stomping his sister’s ex-boyfriend.