Baltimore won yesterday, but did so at a very high cost. They lost both Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis for the season to devastating injuries. Here I will sum up both of their injuries and how Baltimore will look to replace them. I will also update both Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs and their status going forward.
Since losing Suggs early in the offseason, Baltimore had avoided any major injuries for quite some time. That all came to a crashing halt Sunday when they lost two of the cornerstones to their struggling defense. Laradarius Webb went down in the first half in what looked like a non contact injury. Unfortunately, those always seem to be the worse. Webb suffered a torn ACL, the second of his career, but this one was to his left knee. Webb was easily the best corner on the team, and one of the best defensive players on the team. For his size he may have been the best tackler in the NFL. He was as close of a shutdown corner the Ravens have had since Chris McAllister was in his prime. With the secondary already struggling to stop the pass, Webb’s loss is even more devastating.
To replace him, Jimmy Smith slides into the starting lineup opposite of Cary Williams. Williams has struggled to stop much of anyone this season. Since he injured his hip last year he has not been an extremely efficient corner. He has fared a bit better the last two weeks after getting absolutely torched by the Pats, but has struggled mightily none the less. He will really need to step up because there isn’t much behind him. Jimmy Smith has a ton of potential, but hasn’t shown his elite skills much in his young NFL career. Since becoming a first round pick, he was sidelined with a high ankle sprain, and since has yet to crack the starting lineup. Many predicted he would do so before too long with Williams struggling, but that hasn’t been the case. That is either because of the coaching staff’s odd fascination for Williams, or the fact that Smith simply has not proven enough to grab a starting spot. I hope for the Ravens sake at this point that the coaching staff has just been strangely attached to Williams, because they need Smith to step up in a big way.
The starting two has the talent to still play solid pass defense, but beyond that scares me a lot. Corey Graham will likely slot into nickel packages. In today’s game, he will likely see a lot of the field. He has been a great special teams player in his career, but has yet to prove himself on the defensive side of the ball. He strangely enough chose Baltimore stating he wanted to see more snaps on defense. At the time it seemed like an odd decision considering the depth at corner, but now he should see plenty of opportunity. Chykie Brown will be the fourth guy and even saw some snaps yesterday after Smith left with a groin injury. He didn’t play awful, but he has even less experience than Graham. Asa Jackson might actually be active on game days, but I doubt he sees playing time on defense barring anymore unforeseen circumstances. Don’t be surprised to see Ozzie search the waiver wire or swing a trade in the near future. Danny Gorrer has been a frequent inactive for Seattle, so maybe they will try to reunite with the physical corner.
Ray Lewis’ loss is a bit different. At 37 years old he has certainly lost some effectiveness, but is still the heart and soul of the Ravens defense. He probably adds more as an on field coach than an actual player, but was still leading Baltimore in tackles. With Jameel McClain and Daniel Ellerbe available to roam the middle, the loss of Lewis stings a little less than that of Webb. The bigger question here is if this is the end of the road for the future hall of famer. Lewis will be 38 next season is owed more than $5 million for next year. He would seemingly have to take a pay cut to stay on the team and if Ellerbe impresses as a replacement starter, Lewis may not even be guaranteed a starting spot. He has lost a step, and despite toning down this offseason, he still struggles to keep up in the passing game. Now he has taken some hits recently for his rush stopping skills, especially with the last two games. Lewis is too proud to come back as a part time player, and he likely will realize when he isn’t physically able to be a top performer in the league anymore. I expect Lewis to rehab at the level of any player looking to come back the next year, but that’s just who he is. I would put it at about a coin flip on whether or not he comes back next year.
Finally, some actual good news on the injury front. When Haloti Ngata went down in a heap against the Cowboys, I expected at least a couple week injury. He hurt his knee, which is almost never a good thing. Fortunately, it appears he only tweaked his MCL, for whatever that means. What it means to me is that he appears likely to play against Houston. That is huge news for the Ravens that missing three of the best defensive players for next weeks game against a 5-1 team. They will need Ngata badly if they want to have any chance to slow down their explosive offense. He may be at less than 100%, but keep in mind he came back and played through the injury yesterday and even registered a sack. The guy is a monster, and still one when not completely healthy.
Terrell Suggs may actually get some practice in this week. He is eligible to come off the PUP list this weekend, but that may not be the case. Most predictions, including Harbaugh’s is that he will be back after the week 8 bye. That makes a lot of sense since bringing him in this week seems a bit of a stretch. Still, if Suggs were to see the field, that would be a huge boost to a depleted defense. Not likely, or even ideal if he isn’t 100%, but I wouldn’t complain much to see him on the field.