The Ravens got their first taste of life without linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb Sunday against the Houston Texans.
And it wasn't pretty, as the Texans racked up 43 points – 34 against the defense – which was the most the Ravens have allowed in a game since 2007.
In their place, third-year linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and second-year cornerback Jimmy Smith were inserted into the starting lineup and the Ravens had to quickly adjust to life without Lewis and Webb.
"If we didn't get used to it today, there's something wrong," veteran safety Ed Reed said. "Ray's not here. We know Lardarius is out for the season. …We have to move on, like we have."
There was plenty of blame to go around after Sunday's 43-13 loss, and Ellerbe and Smith can hardly shoulder the brunt of the criticism.
Ellerbe finished the day as the Ravens' leading tackler, racking up nine solo stops and three assisted tackles. Ellerbe is known his coverage skills, and he showed off those abilities early in the game. He broke up a pass intended for Texans running back Arian Foster on the opening drive, and then notched two tackles against the run on the next series.
"I got the first one out of the way and I'm looking forward to the next one," Ellerbe said. "We had some plays that we'd want to take back, but at the end of the day, they just got it done. It seemed like everything went their way and you can't take anything away from them."
During the first six weeks of the season, Ellerbe had split snaps with linebacker Jameel McClain, with Ellerbe coming in on passing situations and McClain being used as a run stuffer. Both of them played every defensive snap Sunday, and McClain finished with three tackles on the day.
The biggest issue for both linebackers was they had a tendency to over-pursue at times during the running game.
"There were times when we over-ran some gaps," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We got a little too anxious and ran by Arian Foster and he cut back on us a few times. That was probably the biggest issue we had."
In the secondary, Smith had the tough task of taking over for Webb, who was having a Pro Bowl start to the season. Smith had four tackles on the day, but he was also beat in coverage on a handful of plays.
Wide receiver Kevin Walter beat Smith down the sideline for a 34-yard gain in the second quarter. Walter also beat Smith on a double move earlier in the game, but Texans quarterback Matt Schaub overthrew him on what would have been a sure touchdown.
"Jimmy played well except for the double moves," Harbaugh said. "He did a nice job, but you can't get beat on double moves. He knows that. So that's going to be his issue going forward. You have to find a way to try to cover those stop routes, but still be on top of the deep routes."
"He's very capable," fellow cornerback Cary Williams added about Smith. "He's a playmaker as well. Those injuries are part of the game. We just have to adjust and play better."
With Lewis and Webb both on injured reserve – Lewis is on the designated to return list – Ellerbe and Smith are expected to be mainstays of the Ravens starting lineup. They have shown potential at times, and the focus for them and the rest of the Ravens defense is to make big improvements for their next game in two weeks against Cleveland.
"We're going to take a long look in the mirror this bye week and come back and correct it," Ellerbe said. "We definitely can't play like this again this year."