Terrell Suggs says he’s a game-time decision, and while Ray Lewis returned to practice Wednesday he isn’t eligible to play.
That means Sunday could be the first time ever since Suggs entered the league in 2003 that neither he nor Lewis are on the field for the Ravens defense.
On top of that, the team’s second-leading tackler, Dannell Ellerbe, is trying to come back from thumb, ankle and knee injuries and didn’t practice Wednesday.
Now the Ravens’ thin linebacker corps will face the NFL’s leading rushing unit in the Washington Redskins, who are averaging 167.2 yards per game on the ground.
Whether Baltimore’s second line of defense can hold up Sunday will be key to whether the Ravens can slow Washington’s offense overall.
“Everybody has to step up,” inside linebacker Jameel McClain said. “Everyone has a job. Everyone has to maximize it to another level that they haven’t had to before because we’re losing people.”
The Redskins have a two-pronged rushing attack.
Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III can take off running at any time. His 714 rushing yards are 21st-most in the league at any position, and more than starting running backs such as Atlanta’s Michael Turner and San Diego’s Ryan Mathews.
He has the most rushing yards of any quarterback in the NFL, and set the new all-time rushing record for a rookie quarterback last week, topping Carolina’s Cam Newton.
“When you have a quarterback that can do what he does, it makes you have to game-plan for him too,” McClain said of RGIII.
RGIII also opens up the rest of Washington’s running game.
Washington’s pistol offense frequently features run and pass fakes. That means linebackers and defensive ends have to respect RGIII’s ability to run, so they sometimes are slow to close in on a run.
And that leaves room for another rookie to churn up yardage – sixth-round running back Alfred Morris.
Morris’ 1,106 rushing yards this season are tied for third most in the NFL with Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin, trailing only Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch.
The 5-foot-9, 218-pound Florida Atlantic product is difficult to tackle on the edges of Washington’s stretch running scheme, and can also pound it up the middle. Baltimore had troubles wrapping up on Pittsburgh’s hard running Jonathan Dwyer last week.
“He’s hungry,” RGIII said, crediting Morris’ draft status. “He just runs harder than anybody in the league right now. … Whenever you can hand the ball off and be guaranteed 5-to-6 yards every single time, it makes it a lot easier for me.”
“He’s a big back that runs hard,” Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones said. “He’s a track star who’s having a helluva year, and we’re excited to face him.”
Jones and the rest of the Ravens front line will have to help offset the losses at the linebacker position.
If Suggs misses Sunday’s game, it would likely mean rookie Courtney Upshaw would step back into a starting role. He started just one game since Suggs returned in Week 7 after starting five of the previous six.
Albert McClellan – who helped fill in for Ellerbe last week – could move back outside as well to assist Upshaw and pass rusher Paul Kruger. That would leave veteran Brendon Ayanbadejo and first-year linebacker Josh Bynes as the other reserve inside linebackers.
“You want to approach this game like any other,” McClellan said, regardless of missing players. “With them being one of the best run teams in the league, you’ve got to stop that and force them to throw the ball.”