The Baltimore Ravens lost 19-13 to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, but that might not be the biggest loss the team suffered in the game. As first reported by the Ravens official site via their Twitter account, linebacker Terrell Suggs suffered an Achilles injury and is out for the season.
Even with the depth and talent Baltimore has at outside linebacker, you don’t just replace a player like Suggs without some significant changes. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh addressed the media after the game and reiterated a fitting football cliche:
Harbaugh on Suggs' injury: "Adversity is all about how you respond to it." http://t.co/OxsfGOngO1— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 13, 2015
The Future for Baltimore
For the team, it is a case of next man up, and the cupboard is far from bare. It’s a great problem to have when your third outside linebacker you rotate in is Elvis Dumervil. Yes, the same Dumervil who had 17 sacks in 2014 and has had at least 9.5 sacks in six of his eight seasons in the league. Being able to bring him off the bench was a luxury, but now he will be a full-time player across from outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
This also means the new third guy in the rotation is going to be rookie linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Smith was the lesser-known pass-rusher to come out of the University of Kentucky in the 2015 draft, behind teammate Alvin Dupree. Nevertheless, Smith was solid in the preseason and is suddenly in the spotlight as a replacement for Suggs. Additionally, look for Baltimore to activate Brennen Beyer from the practice squad to fill that fourth outside linebacker spot on the active roster.
Baltimore had hoped that having Suggs and Upshaw meant Dumervil would have fresh legs as a pass-rush specialist. The 31-year-old may run out of gas late in games, which would hurt Baltimore's pass rush.
Asking Dumervil to play more significant reps is going to compromise the Ravens run defense. One area where Suggs really excelled was in blowing up run plays going his direction. For all his skills, Dumervil can't do that with the same efficiency.
Also, bringing a rookie into that third linebacker spot is a huge risk. If Smith isn't ready to be the third linebacker, it puts a lot of pressure on the defensive line to fill in the gap left by the absence of Suggs. The Ravens defense immediately becomes less athletic and explosive. And that's not even taking into account the part of Suggs' game that extends beyond the box score. As ESPN insider Chris Mortensen put it, this could be a "big blow."
The Future for Suggs
Right now, the Ravens' focus has to be on getting back on track after a tough loss, and they now have to find a guy to replace Suggs' production and be the emotional leader of the defense. However, big picture, the real focus is on Suggs and what this means for his career.
As Eagles writer Bryn Swartz pointed out, this is Suggs' second major Achilles injury in the past four seasons:
Torn Achilles for Terrell Suggs. Almost 33. 2nd Achilles injury in 4 seasons. Hope this isn't end for him. Brutal loss for BAL.— Bryn Swartz (@eaglescentral) September 13, 2015
If you recall, Suggs tore his Achilles in the 2012 offseason with some mystery as to the cause. As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, after initially being reported as an injury during offseason conditioning, witnesses said the injury actually occurred while playing basketball. The injury forced Suggs to miss the first half of the 2012 season. It was the worst season of his career, as he was never back to full strength.
When you figure in his age with this injury, there’s a real possibility that this will put an abrupt end to a stellar NFL career, one in which he won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2003 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. Suggs has 106.5 career sacks, ranking him No. 5 among active NFL players.
At this point, all we can hope for is a full recovery for Suggs and let him decide what he wants to do going forward. As for the team, it will be Suggs’ emotional influence that might be missed as much as anything. There are some other veteran players on this defense, such as Dumervil and cornerback Jimmy Smith, who aren't afraid to be vocal.
Baltimore is going to need a someone to keep the defense motivated and inspired. And with the offense struggling mightily against the Broncos, the defense may have no margin for error.