By Samuel Njoku
Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb are out for the season. And for the some, the sky is falling in Baltimore. But the reality of the situation is less grim and much more exciting. The simple fact is that for years Baltimore has been spoiled. Every year, the Ravens trot on a ferocious defense that looks more like a created franchise on Madden than anything else. The interceptions returned for touchdowns were the norm. The sack fumbles lead by T-sizzle became standard gameday fiascoes. Nobody expected that father-time would catch up to Baltimore, but when it caught up, it did so with a vengeance.
Ray Lewis looked slow from the beginning of the season. Teams simply run off tackle to take him away from any given play. And when a team felt the need to run up the middle, they’d simply pull a guard and force him out of the play. Teams manage to do that to any linebacker, it was just…..different to see it happen to Ray Lewis. Even with teams’ game-planning against Lewis, he still found ways to make an impact. No matter how slow you may appear to be, knowing where the football is going makes you the fastest player on the field. No one in the NFL did that quite as well as Ray Lewis.
However, with Lewis’ departure, the entire dynamic of the defense will change. The Ravens could not get Lewis off the field on third down. He just would not leave. The great ones never want to. But Lewis seemed to struggle the most on 3rd down. And with his departure, Baltimore gets to do what they couldn’t. They’ll field Jameel McClain as the Mike linebacker and place Dannell Ellerbe as the Will linebacker. This will make the unit faster and more versatile. You’ll see an immediate improvement on 3rd down conversions the rest of the season.
Of course the struggles on defense aren’t squarely on the shoulders of Ray Lewis. Anyone that tells you this team is better with Lewis off the field clearly doesn’t understand football. His ability to understand what’s happening on the field improves the ENTIRE defense. Lewis doesn’t keep his knowledge to himself. When he sees something on the field, he relays it to the rest of the defense.
This includes the secondary, which will be without Lardarius Webb for the rest of the season. If there is a silver lining in this situation, it’s that Jimmy Smith has been thrust into the starting lineup. Many fans don’t know what they’ll get with Smith, and in some regards, neither do the Ravens. But if you look at the way Smith has played this season, the loss of Webb won’t be as tough as you think.
Jimmy Smith possesses a skill set that rivals that of Lardarius Webb. Smith is a physical corner that can take a receiver away from a play. In Colorado, Smith used to simply use his strength to accomplish this task. In the NFL, Smith has matched up against receivers that are too savvy for that. If Smith can improve his footwork and play recognition, he will do well in this defense. Another good sign for Baltimore is that Cary Williams is playing better football. He’s still getting picked on by opposing quarterbacks, but he is playing much more physical against receivers. His technique has improved a great deal since the start of the season as well. I won’t put too much stock in his interceptions, but they have come at the right time. Cary Williams deserves a lot of credit for turning his season around, but will need to continue to improve now that the Ravens have loss Webb for the season.
Baltimore sits at (5-1) with a huge match up on Sunday against the Texans. They currently sit two games ahead of both the Steelers and Bengals in the AFC North. Is the defense struggling this year? Absolutely! Are the injuries to Webb and Lewis unfortunate? Indeed it is! Is the sky falling in Baltimore? Not even close.
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Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. He can be reached for comments at SamuelN870@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.