Despite their 5-1 record, the Baltimore Ravens enter a pivotal Week 7 clash against the Houston Texans with a few question marks.
A 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14 cost Baltimore a blossoming shutdown corner, Lardarius Webb, and their prized on-field leader, Ray Lewis. Both defenders were lost for the year just as most teams get set to transition into the season’s second half.
Fortunately for Baltimore, other than the Texans (5-1), no other AFC team is currently above the .500 mark in what has been an unusual campaign from some of the more storied teams across the conference. New England, Pittsburgh, the New York Jets and last year’s surprise AFC team, Cincinnati, have all been maddeningly inconsistent this season. But will key injuries cause the Ravens to lose the ground they’ve fought so hard to gain? AFRO’s Stephen D. Riley and Perry Green faceoff.
Green: Of course not. Look, even before Lewis and Webb went down, the Ravens defense was already having a down year. The story of the team so far has been a high-powered offense, and a defense which has taken a backseat to the talents of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Both Webb and Lewis are outstanding players, but the team has enough depth in their defense to cope with injuries provided their stars on offense stay intact.
Riley: The fact that the defense (28th overall) was already struggling puts even more of an emphasis on the injuries to Lewis and Webb. When you take a unit that’s already struggling and remove two of their best players from it, then you have a serious problem on your hands. Offense can carry you through a season but when we get to November and December and it’s time to stop somebody, and your most qualified defenders are sitting on the sidelines wearing baseball caps, any team is going to be in a tough position.
Green: Baltimore has played without Lewis or Webb several times over the last few years and still performed up to their status quo. Granted, the team hasn’t played without both at the same time, but they did go 4-0 without Lewis last year and finished the 2009 season as playoff contenders when Webb was shelved with an ACL injury. The defense could be set to round into form with 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs returning from an injury of his own this week and sophomore cornerback Jimmy Smith flashing ability at times.
Riley: I wouldn’t count on a player fresh off an Achilles injury and a second-year cover corner who’s flashed both ability and inconsistency to help make up for the losses of Webb and Lewis. The Ravens’ schedule doesn’t lighten up after the Texans game—they still have Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin III and Ben Roethlisberger (twice) left on the slate. Baltimore has proven they can score, but can they defend? That’s a question that hasn’t been asked in quite some time.
Green: There are still some excellent players left on this defense in Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata. Those two alone could pilot any unit, so expecting Baltimore’s defense to just fall off a cliff is ludicrous. The Ravens no longer have to be the team that absolutely has to hold you to 10 points or less to win. They can win shootouts now. I’m not saying it’s the perfect formula, but let’s not act like the talent is completely bare on the other side. There’s still some quality defenders left who can make a play or two and come up with a big stop. Lewis and Webb losses will hurt, but won’t derail the Raven’s Super Bowl plans this year.
Riley: You can talk about whoever you want, but you can’t replace the coverage that Webb gave the team or the leadership that Lewis always gives the team. It’s one thing to win in the regular season, but come playoff time we’ll see how “loaded” this club really is. I wouldn’t bank on anything involving the words Super Bowl and Baltimore Ravens after those two guys went down.