Every week the Baltimore Ravens play a new team with new players and new fans to banter with and every week you hear the same things from opposing fans. "Ray Lewis is too old, he can't go sideline to sideline any more. He has lost a step and is now a liability!". Every single week Ray comes out and proves them all wrong. Ray Lewis leads the vaunted Ravens defense in tackles again this year with 68. He also has two forced fumbles, two sacks, an interception and six passes defended. Doesn't sound like he is fading off into the sunset to me.
Ray has not missed a game since 2007 but this week he will most likely be sidelined against the Cincinnati Bengals with a toe injury. Baltimore fans know all too well what a little thing like a toe can do to your star players. Jonathan Ogden was all but forced to retire over a toe.
This week the Ravens will get a glimpse of the future, a view of the Ravens without number 52 patrolling the middle of the field and calling out the offenses plays before they even know what they are running.
The good thing is the former Miami Hurricane will be on the sidelines and available for coaching up his replacements. You can put a younger, faster and stronger player on the field but the experience of Lewis can not be replaced. Ray Lewis makes everyone on the field better. There are not many players that can do that at that level. only a hand full in NFL history that were not quarterbacks.
This brings up the question, Who will replace Lewis on the field? The most obvious choice would be Dannell Ellerbe. He has filled in for Lewis in the past and this way no one else would be forced to change positions. Ellerbe however has been sidelined due to injury for the last few weeks, although he may be able to play, he may not prove to be the best option after missing so much time on the field.
The next option is Brendon Ayanbadejo. Mostly a special teamer in his career Ayanbadejo has been active on the Ravens defense on passing downs due to his speed and coverage skills. The knock on Brendon has been that, although he is a pro bowl caliber special teamer, he is not big enough to be an every down linebacker in the NFL.
The Ravens will most likely use a combination of all three players in situational game planning for this game. Expect to see Jameel McClain and Ellerbe on obvious running downs and Ayanbadejo to come in on third downs. If Ellerbe is not fully recovered the Ravens will be very thin at linebacker and may use more three safety sets with Bernard Pollard playing in the box. This may also be a way for Sergio Kindle to finally see some action if things get real hairy and we have to start moving outside backers and defensive ends around as well. Let's hope this injury is minor and Ray is still a fast healer but whatever the case it will be a different look for Ravens fans this week.