Baltimore Ravens' Season Will Be Just Fine Despite Injuries to Lewis and Webb

Stephen GillamContributor IIIOctober 15, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 14: Cornerback Lardarius Webb #21 of the Baltimore Ravens is carried off the field after being injured in the first half against the Dallas Cowboys at M&T Bank Stadium on October 14, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Ravens won, 31-29. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

I feel physically ill right now.

While I just ate a double down from KFC, I'm pretty sure that's not the cause of my ailment.

Nope, I blame Jeff Darlington. The Tweet that launched a thousand overreactions (look at the amount of times it's been shared) has suggested that Ray Lewis will miss the rest of the season with a torn tricep and Lardarius Webb will be out for just as long with a suspected ACL injury.

With Terrell Suggs already out, losing two of their best defensive players was the one thing the Ravens didn't need (aside from, you know, losing someone like Ray Rice or Joe Flacco).

If you're new to the game, Lewis is the Ravens' leader. He leads both by example and with his famous oratories.

In the backfield, Webb had something of a breakout season in 2011, picking up 67 tackles and 5 interceptions on his way to becoming arguably one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He's about the Ravens' only cornerback that can consistently cover receivers and he forms a vital part of their defensive unit.

So you can see why I'm not feeling too good right now.

But after thinking about it for a while (and let's be honest, there's not much else to do in little old New Zealand), there's no reason the Ravens can't make the playoffs. From there, anything can happen.

For a start, any talk of how their defensive unit will be terrible is officially hysteria until the MRIs can be conducted tomorrow.

But even assuming the worst, here's why the Ravens will continue to compete for the AFC.


"Next man up"

Do I really have to say this? Ray Lewis is 37 and not the Super Bowl MVP that he once was. He missed four games last season, and the team didn't miss a beat. He's undoubtedly a great player, but he can be covered for.

The guys on NFL Playbook looked at Albert McClellan a few weeks ago, while Brendon Ayanbadejo also did just fine in Lewis's absence.

Lardarius Webb is significantly more difficult to replace. Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith are both dramatic downgrades in coverage, and susceptible to frustrating penalties.

The coaches will need to adjust for this. Without Webb's coverage skills, Williams and Smith will get torched repeatedly if they both play single coverage. To rectify this, John Harbaugh might order a good dose of jamming at the line of scrimmage, but at any rate I trust them to come up with something. They need to.

Safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard will need to step up, but we already know they can do that.

Oh yeah, and there's the small matter of Terrell Suggs coming back. It has been noted that his presence does more to an opposing offense than simply provide sacks.

The intangible things he can do to the quarterback will help out the secondary when he gets back.


Are the Ravens really that much more unlikely to finish in the top two now?

Although they are comfortably ahead in the AFC North, winning the division may not be enough. Finishing in the top two of the AFC might prove to be the difference in who gets to tango with the NFC champion in February.

Aside from the enigmatic Chargers and the Denver Broncos, who have started slowly, the Ravens' main competition for those berths are the 3-3 Patriots and the 5-1 Texans.

The Patriots still have to face the 49ers and Texans, both of whom are capable of exposing their offensive line and rattling Tom Brady. Even then, there's no guarantee they will sweep the Jets and Dolphins either, especially if they have one eye on the bigger games ahead. 11-5 is not an unrealistic finish for them.

While they drafted well in the pass rush department, their secondary is still a liability.

Meanwhile, the 3-2 San Diego Chargers and 2-3 Denver Broncos are largely an unknown quantity at this stage.

Why am I bringing this up? There are only two remaining games for the Ravens that I think Webb's absence might single-handedly cost them the game: in San Diego against the Chargers and at home against Peyton Manning's Broncos.

When they come up against every other opponent this season, a shaky secondary isn't likely to be the defining factor for the Ravens. For example, the Texans will be fired up after their loss to Green Bay, and there's some dude you may have heard of named J.J. Watt.

Do you see what I'm trying to say here? With or without Webb, the match in Houston will carry out as it will carry out and they're still beatable.

More than the Ravens' other opponents, both Manning and Rivers will surely be licking their chops at the prospect of pitting their receivers against Williams and Smith and those are the matches where Webb will be missed the most.

Even if the Ravens drop those two (and I penciled the Chargers game in as a loss before the season anyway), 12-4 or 11-5 is still a comfortable possibility.

The Steelers are just as banged up right now, the Raiders and Redskins can be beaten off the back of Joe Flacco's new-look offense, not even the Giants know what Giants team will show up each week, the Bengals haven't beaten a playoff-caliber team since the Stone Age and the Browns will always be the Browns.

The Ravens can drop two games and still have the advantage over the Patriots and you can bet the Texans are suffering without Brian Cushing (no way will they finish 15-1).

There's no reason the Ravens can't finish with a bye week.

From there, anything can happen. You wouldn't bet too strongly against this Ravens outfit that came within the worst field goal attempt in history from a Super Bowl appearance.

All they have to do is make the right adjustments for each game and keep playing like Ravens.

Sound familiar?


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