Injuries Cripple An Aging Baltimore Raven Defense
The Baltimore Ravens, who became a team in 1996, drafted linebacker Ray Lewis as the 26th overall pick. Drafting Lewis began an era of the Ravens’ stellar defense, but 16 years later, a 37-year-old Lewis and the defense that was built around him are beginning to cripple.
Lewis tore his right triceps in last week’s game against Dallas. As a result, Lewis underwent surgery and was placed on the injured reserve list with a designation of a possible return. It is unknown whether Ray Lewis will in fact return, but the coaching staff is keeping the option of their team captain returning.
Lewis is not the only Ravens’ defensive player that has suffered from injuries this season. Along with Lewis, Pro-Bowl safety Ed Reed has sustained multiple injuries throughout the year, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata suffered a knee injury and was seen limping off the field yesterday, and Lardarius Webb is out for the season with a torn ACL and meniscus. Terrell Suggs, the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, returned to the Ravens’ lineup after being sidelined due to a partially torn Achilles tendon.
As a result of all these injuries, the Ravens’ defense finds itself ranked 22nd in pass defense and 26th in run defense. A team that has been consistently ranked among the league’s top 5 defenses has found its way to the bottom.
So what does this mean for the future?
This season has shown that the Ravens are still an extremely competitive team. They are one of the top teams in the NFL, boast of one of the best records in the league, and appear to be en route to clinching a playoff spot and possibly their division. However, the game against the Houston Texans may be a testament to how the remainder of the Ravens’ season will unfold. True, they are likely to clinch a coveted playoff spot, but what happens once they reach the playoffs? It appears unlikely that their defense will be able to stop many of the high-powered offenses in the AFC, much less the NFC. What about after this season? With many of the original Ravens players reaching the end of their career, it appears as though their trademark defense will not withstand the test of time much longer.
Ray Lewis, being the emotional catalyst of the team for the past 16 years, has had several spectacular seasons, thirteen Pro Bowls, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, and one Super Bowl championship for which he was named the game’s MVP. Ray Lewis is undoubtedly the heart and soul of this defense, as well as the team, but the Ray Lewis chapter may be coming to a close. The Ravens are still a strong team, but there’s no question that they will weaken without the assistance of Lewis. The future Hall of Famer, despite his injury, may still have a few seasons left. What of the aging Ed Reed? Ed Reed has almost as impressive a repertoire as Lewis, but he – recently turning 34 – is also at the twilight of his career. The Ravens, first and foremost, have to get through this season, but once the season is over, the team has a lot of thinking to do about the future of the franchise and what the post-Ray Lewis era will look like. Until then, all they can do is cross their fingers and hope Lewis returns sometime this season.
Reach Staff Writer Miguel Arreola here.