Are the Baltimore Ravens Better Off Without Ray Lewis?
UPDATE (4:00 p.m Monday): Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reports that Lewis has indeed ruptured his triceps, and Ravens coach John Harbaugh confirmed that Lewis will miss the rest of the 2012 season.
The 37-year-old Lewis left Sunday's 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys with a triceps injury, and Ravens doctors fear that the potential muscle tear could be bad enough to sideline Lewis for the rest of the 2012 season.
Injury to Ray Lewis, docs don't believe tear in triceps is a complete tear but fear it is deep enough to finish him for the year. He was in too much pain for them to get a good gauge on the sideline. MRI in the AM to see the TRUE extent of it
Losing Lewis would seem like a knockout blow to a defense that is already reeling. The Ravens allowed a franchise-record 227 rushing yards to the Cowboys Sunday.
But Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports found several sources who think the Ravens may actually be better off without the aging Lewis playing so many snaps on defense.
However, there are several people who believe the loss of Lewis could be a positive for the Ravens in the long run. Yes, Lewis is the emotional leader of the team, but there are plenty of people around the league who will tell you he has lost a step. One former player said recently: "I can't believe they still leave him on the field on third down. You can see that he knows where to be, but he just can't get there. You can see he lost weight to maintain his quickness, but it's not working."
Lewis lost 15 pounds this offseason in an effort to stay a sideline-to-sideline player, but as the saying goes, Father Time remains undefeated. The 37-year-old has clearly lost a step this season.
The stats from our good friends at Pro Football Focus back up the claims of Cole's sources.
According to PFF, Lewis has graded out negatively against both the run and pass, and his overall grade ranks a lowly 35th among all inside linebackers this season. Lewis has played 453 snaps, or over 95 percent of the Ravens defensive snaps this season.
Baltimore simply hasn't taken him off the field, even during clear passing situations.
Against the pass, Lewis has struggled mightily. He has allowed 15 catches for 195 yards in 2012, with 100 of the 195 yards coming after the catch. Oftentimes, Lewis has been caught in a trailing position, and making the tackle out in space has been a difficulty.
Lewis' performance against the run has also slowly but surely fallen off the map. The most alarming showing came last Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, who saw running back Jamaal Charles rush for over 160 yards on the Ravens. Questions about Lewis' ability to play at his advanced age soon followed.
Former Ravens offensive lineman Wally Williams told Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun that the problems Lewis was suffering through looked "really bad."
He's outmanned at the point of attack. He's not as physical. You see a lot of Ray on the ground, on his back. He gets overpowered and stuck to blocks. You can't expect a guy to not lose a couple of steps with all the wear and tear on his body. You're not accustomed to seeing Ray have so many problems. It's glaring, it looks really bad.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach and current NBC analyst Tony Dungy told Wilson that Lewis "isn't the same player he was 10 years ago." Former Ravens scout and current NFL.com writer Daniel Jeremiah added that Lewis "isn't playing downhill" and that he "can't get off blocks."
While Lewis remains the emotional leader of the entire Ravens franchise, it was quickly becoming a consensus around the league that the perennial All-Pro inside had turned into a slight liability on defense.
For the first time in franchise history, the Ravens allowed back-to-back teams to go over 200 yards rushing. Lewis was a part of those struggles.
With Lewis likely out for the foreseeable future, backup mike linebacker Dannell Ellerbe will take over inside. Ellerbe has 2.5 sacks this season in a limited role, but he's been exposed against the pass, too.
Overall, there's simply no earthly way to argue that the Ravens will be better off without Ray Lewis on the field this season. But it's clear that Lewis was struggling before his injury. The rest of his teammates on defense were struggling right along with him.
The Ravens will have to rally defensively, but they'll have to do so without the man who has manned the middle for the better part of the last 15 seasons. The winds have shifted in Baltimore over the last 24 hours.
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