Ray Lewis is a freak, and freaks are supposed to be invincible. When they injure a toe, they’re expected to just grow a new one and carry on.
That won’t happen for the middle linebacker, long-time vocal leader, and anchor of Baltimore’s defense. Late last night (technically early this morning, but it was still last night in our world), Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times reported that the toe injury Lewis suffered last Sunday will definitely keep him off the field this week during a key divisional battle against Cincinnati, and possibly longer.
The notoriously tough and physical Lewis hasn’t missed a game since 2007, making 57 consecutive starts. But he’s missed two practices this week, and Wilson reported that he visited a toe specialist in South Florida. Wilson also reported that Lewis could miss more time depending on how quickly the injury heals, and Lewis’ freakish physique includes quick healing powers. The Ravens haven’t confirmed anything yet.
The absence of a major defensive playmaker is always damaging. Dannell Ellerbe will likely be used to replace Lewis, with Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo also in the mix. But the area that could potentially be damaged most is Baltimore’s run defense, and if we assume that Lewis’ injury is indeed a short-term ailment (three weeks max), then the Ravens should be able to survive pretty easily.
Including Sunday’s game, Baltimore plays Cincy twice over its remaining seven games. Both games will likely be important, but this week’s certainly is, with both teams one game back of Pittsburgh in the AFC North and tied with identical 6-3 records.
However, the Bengals’ rushing attack isn’t exactly daunting. Cedric Benson has two 100-yard games against weak run defenses, but he’s failed to eclipse the 60-yard mark in half of his games this season. Benson’s below average 3.8 yards per carry over his last four games is even more encouraging for a Ravens rush defense that’s ranked third in the league.
Three of Baltimore’s four opponents over the next month are ranked 20th or lower in rushing (Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Cleveland). The Browns are slated for Week 13, and they’re averaging only 87 yards per game. The Harbaugh Bowl when San Francisco visits M&T Bank Stadium on Thanksgiving night is the only exception.
Between Joe Flacco’s inconsistencies and the need to get the ball in Ray Rice’s hands far more often, the Ravens should be worried about their offense. But defensively this is a unit and a schedule that should be able to sustain a short time sans Lewis.