How do you replace a future Hall of Fame middle linebacker and one of the top three cornerbacks in the NFL? The Baltimore Ravens will now find out if that's even possible. The safe bet is that it's not.
With Lardarius Webb out for the year with a torn ACL and Ray Lewis lost for the season with a torn triceps muscle, the Baltimore Ravens face an uphill battle to try to replace two of the most important players in the NFL. How can they attempt to fill the holes on defense with the players already on the roster?
Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith aren't Lardarius Webb
Losing Lardarius Webb ultimately hurts the Ravens more than losing Lewis does. That might not be a popular perception, but the fact is that Lewis had been struggling in run support all year, while Webb was playing like the game's best cornerback with Darrelle Revis out.
The front office wisely built up depth at cornerback in the 2011 NFL draft, adding Jimmy Smith in the first round. Now Smith will slide in and play opposite Cary Williams in the starting lineup.
The simple fact is that neither Smith nor Williams can hold up in coverage like Webb, which means the front seven has to get more pressure on the quarterback. A healthy Terrell Suggs will help, but the Ravens need to dial up more blitzes, more stunts and more pressure to shorten the amount of time that Williams and Smith are in coverage.
Both Williams and Smith have talent, but the key for both is to limit mistakes. Smith must mature past the penalties he's been flagged for thus far, and Williams has to do a better job using his hands to break up passes.
|Player||Comp. %||Penalties||INTs||Passes Defensed||QB Rating Allowed|
Fixing the defense: Shift to more 4-3 defensive fronts
As the Ravens attempt to improve their standing against the run and find ways to pressure the quarterback more, one quick fix would be to use their 4-3 look more often.
The Ravens currently jump between a three- and four-man front often, liking to keep offenses guessing, but when they need to beef up against the run, it would be beneficial to have four down linemen. It would also keep the offensive line from getting to the less experienced inside linebackers.
As shown above, once Terrell Suggs (55) is back, the Ravens will have a stronger pass-rushing presence and more flexibility to blitz and stunt off the edge. When the Ravens lost Lewis during the 2011 season, they wisely shifted to more 4-3 fronts and were able to win every game while he was out. If they don't do so this year, the result will be bad.
You can't overestimate how much having Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody in the middle of the defensive line will help the run defense. Add Paul Kruger (replacing Jarret Johnson, now in San Diego), and the front looks much stronger than it has in the 3-4 look early this season.
There may not be a way to replace Ray Lewis' leadership, and his pregame motivational speeches will be missed, but the loss of Webb is the one that will keep the Baltimore Ravens from realizing their postseason hopes. The AFC North is now wide open.
With 10 games left on the schedule, the Ravens won't face an easy walk to the playoffs. Yes, the team is off to a nice start, but getting the number of wins needed to make the playoffs won't be easy when facing this line up the rest of the way.
|Week||Team||Points Per Game Rank|
|14||WAS||No. 3 (tied)|
|16||NYG||No. 3 (tied)|
To make the playoffs, the 5-1 Ravens are likely to need six more victories. With that schedule facing them, six wins may be out of reach.