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Injuries Taking A Toll On Ravens Defense

Posted Dec 13, 2012

The high number of injuries is limiting the defensive packages Dean Pees has at his disposal.


The Ravens don’t complain about injuries or use them as an excuse.

After all, every team in the NFL has them and nobody is going to show pity on Sundays.

But the injury toll is at a point that Head Coach John Harbaugh, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, safety Ed Reed and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs all said they’ve never seen before in Baltimore.

“It’s been tough,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been as many injuries as we’ve probably ever had on defense here in the last five years.”

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Suggs added. “Last year we had some injuries, but definitely not this many. But it’s not the cards you’re dealt with, it’s how you play your hand.”

Baltimore’s defense ranks 24th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (375.9). It surrendered a game-winning drive to Pittsburgh two weeks ago and game-tying drive in Washington Sunday.

But how much of that is because of injuries?

Three examples from Sunday’s game in Washington illustrate how the Ravens are hurting.

As the Washington Redskins were driving down the field for the potential game-tying score, they faced a third-and-5 from the Ravens’ 11-yard line. Rookie backup quarterback Kirk Cousins took the snap and rolled to his right.

Johnson, who the Ravens signed off the street just three weeks earlier, was covering the Redskins’ top receiver, Pierre Garcon, because two of Baltimore’s top cornerbacks, Lardarius Webb (knee) and Jimmy Smith (sports hernia), are out.

Johnson jumped the route thinking the Redskins were trying to pick up the first down and that he had help behind him. He didn’t. He was beat by Garcon for an easy 11-yard touchdown pass.

“I’ve played the same defense in Oakland where we did have help over the top,” Johnson said. “It’s the same call, but they play it different in different places. I should have asked before that play what was going on, but I was expecting the same type of coverage.”

On the next play, Washington lined up for a two-point conversion. Cousins scrambled right up the middle and into the teeth of Baltimore’s banged-up inside linebackers.

The first person to hit him was safety Ed Reed – once Cousins was already in the end zone. Veteran special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo and Josh Bynes, who spent nearly all of last year on the practice squad, were blocked out of the play.

Bynes, a first-year player in his eighth career game, was wearing the mic’d up helmet and communicating the play calls to the rest of the defense for the first time in his NFL career. He and Ayanbadejo were in the game because Ray Lewis (triceps), Jameel McClain (neck) and Dannell Ellerbe (ankle) were all out.

“I’m not Ray Lewis,” Bynes said. “[Ayanbadejo] isn’t Ray Lewis or Ellerbe. He’s Ayanbadejo. I’m Josh Bynes. And that’s who we’re going to play like.”

The defense’s injuries even carried over to special teams. On the Redskins’ game-breaking, 64-yard punt return, Bynes, Ayanbadejo and linebacker Albert McClellan, who was also seeing more snaps than usual, were right back out on the coverage unit.

Here’s a look at all the injuries on the defensive side of the ball for Baltimore this year, and how much time they’ve missed. It adds up to a collective 70 games.

DT Ryan McBean (broken ankle): preseason injury; done for the season
S Emanuel Cook (broken leg): preseason injury, done for the season
CB Lardarius Webb (knee): missed seven games, done for the season
OLB Terrell Suggs (Achilles/biceps): missed seven total games
ILB Ray Lewis (triceps): missed seven games
CB Jimmy Smith (sports hernia): missed five games
DE Pernell McPhee (thigh): missed four games
S Christian Thompson (knee): missed four games, done for the season
ILB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle/thumb/knee): missed two games
CB Chris Johnson (hamstring): missed two games
DB Anthony Levine (shoulder): missed two games
DT Haloti Ngata (shoulder/knee): missed one game
OLB Paul Kruger (back): missed one game
DT Terrence Cody (arm): missed one game
DT Ma’ake Kemoeatu (knee): missed one game

Earlier this year, when the defense had fewer injuries and was getting gashed by opposing running games, Pees shuffled players into different positions to help maximize their individual skills.

For example, he sometimes slid rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw to defensive tackle. Pees used different formations, like a 4-3 defense, and even five linebackers at a time.

That’s no longer an option.

“We’ve tried to put guys in positions and try to ask them to do things they can do and don’t ask them to do things they can’t do. Sometimes, that limits you,” Pees said.

“All of the sudden, those packages have now shrunk because we don’t have guys to put in that package, so that package is out.”

Pees said not having certain packages hurt them in the last two games on the final drives.

“We’re wanting to maybe do some things that we maybe either can’t do,” he said. “Or if we do call something, it’s really probably the first time that guy has had to actually do it in a game situation, and it didn’t turn out so well.”

But the Ravens can only make do with what they have and hope some of their top impact players return soon.

Lewis is eligible to play this week, although it’s unknown whether he will. He practiced Thursday. Suggs was close to playing in Washington and was practicing once again this week, albeit it in a limited capacity. Smith is now a full practice participant.

“We are starting to get a little healthier, so it would be good to get some of those guys back,” Harbaugh said. “I’m really proud of the guys. The guys have stepped up. We have confidence in whoever we put out there.”

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