It's impossible to fathom, but the Baltimore Ravens defense has fared better in 2012 without Ray Lewis.
Prior to his injury, Lewis had collected 57 tackles, forced one fumble and recorded one sack through Baltimore's first six games.
At the time the Ravens were 5-1 and riding a four-game winning streak. Unfortunately, the defense was underachieving and not slowing opponents consistently down. Since, though, Baltimore's defense has clearly gotten back on track and the wins continue to accumulate.
A source close to Lewis said the 37-year-old linebacker has been aggressively treating his triceps injury with a variation of the platelet-rich plasma therapy that helped injured Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Hines Ward return from a knee sprain to play in the team's Super Bowl XLIII victory. The source said Lewis could practice as soon as this Thursday—the day he's eligible to do so after having been placed on the "injured reserve designated to return" list six weeks earlier—and almost certainly will return sometime in the next month.
That said, Lewis' leadership and emotional influence on the team is unparalleled and not replaceable. But before we get all amped up about the possible return, let's check out how the Ravens defense has fared with and without the future Hall-of-Famer this season.
First Six Games, With Lewis
During this six-game span the Ravens allowed an average of 396 total yards per game. Had this average been sustained over Baltimore's previous five contests it would rank No. 29 in total defense.
That's not how anyone perceived the Ravens defense to be entering the 2012 campaign. Now yes, certainly part of that was due to the absence of Terrell Suggs. Although for as great of an impact as he has, one guy isn't totally going to drastically reduce an average near 400 yards.
Also, in Baltimore's first six games the defense allowed its average or above thrice times. Not to mention the Ravens gave up 24-plus points three times along with an average of 136.5 rushing yards per contest.
Provided that allowed rushing average kept its pace through November and Baltimore would rank No. 30 against the run. Plus, the Ravens only faced two teams during their first six that currently hold a winning record: Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots.
Altogether the Ravens weren't consistently getting off the field on third down either. Giving up a conversion rate of 39.8 percent (35-of-88), this would currently rank Baltimore at No. 21 in third-down defense.
Additionally, Baltimore allowed 148 first-downs with Lewis suited up and opponents moved the chains more than the Ravens offense in four of their first six games. Unsurprisingly, Lewis and Co. were on the field more which led to Baltimore losing the possession battle five times.
This ultimately resulted in allowing a 43.4 red zone touchdown percentage rate. So, teams went 10-of-23 vs. Baltimore regarding the six points compared to settling for field goals.
Previous Five Games, Without Lewis
The good news is that Baltimore has continued winning and currently rides a four-game streak.
Even better is the defense picking its game up without Lewis on the field. After all, it was quite reasonable for anyone to believe Baltimore's defense would take a slight step back without Lewis controlling the middle of the Ravens' front seven.
Now yes, the Houston Texans game was a complete and utter disaster. However, the Texans caught Baltimore at the right time since Houston was angry after getting suplexed by the Green Bay Packers. Factor in Baltimore being banged up in Week 7 and a loss was a foregone conclusion.
In short, that game is the significant outlier compared to Weeks 9 through 12.
Since their second loss the Ravens have not allowed more than 20 points in a game and an average of only 325 total yards. That's 71 fewer yards compared to how Baltimore began the season. What's extensively impressive is allowing just three red zone touchdowns over the past five games.
All of which came courtesy of the Texans, so zero red zone touchdowns over the past four games.
Excluding the 55 points scored vs. the Oakland Raiders, the offense has drastically cooled down. Fortunately, the defense has also only given up an average of 19 first-downs during this stretch, which is five fewer per game than with Lewis on the field.
One difference, however, is Houston being Baltimore's only opponent with a winning record looking at the previous five matchups. Nevertheless, opponents have gone just 35.8 percent on third down—a four percent reduction after the initial six games.
What do you think: Has Baltimore's defense performed better without Ray Lewis?
So What Does All This Mean?
If anything, it's the rest of Baltimore's defense picking up in Lewis' absence.
Can we expect the Ravens to keep improving provided Lewis does return? Yes, because there's simply an enhanced level of confidence resonating through the defense.
Ravens fans should also be optimistic as well, because considering that Lewis is 37 years old he's obviously on the backend of his career. In turn, Baltimore playing better without him now only prepares the defense to keep on rolling whenever the post-Ray Lewis era commences.
Meaning the Ravens won't have to worry about rebuilding whenever Lewis is gone. Instead, reloading and maintaining division supremacy while consistently being AFC title contenders.
Follow John Rozum on Twitter.