Ravens: No Ray Lewis, No Problem

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 11: Jarrett Johnson #95 and Jameel McClain #53 of the Baltimore Ravens tackle Delone Carter #34 of the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Colts 24-10. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has missed the past four games with a toe injury and although there's a decent chance he could be ready to play in the team's next game at the San Diego Chargers on Sunday Night Football, the team has managed pretty well without him. In the four games that Ray has stood and cheered from the sidelines, the Ravens are 4-0 and their defense has played shutdown football in all four victories.

Baltimore employs a base 3-4 defense, meaning they usually have three down linemen and four linebackers. Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson have been mainstays on the outside and joining Ray on the inside has been Jameel McClain. In Lewis' absence, the Ravens have used Dannell Ellerbe, Brendon Ayanbadejo and even Albert McClellan, with Ellerbe getting the majority of reps during this time.

In wins over the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens have surrendered a grand total of 50 points, less than 13 per game. The run defense never gave up more than 45 yards to any single rusher, as opponents ran a total of 50 times for 153 yards (3.0/carry) over the four games. Other than the Bengals first quarter touchdown, the Ravens have not trailed in any of those games, a span covering an active streak of 15 quarters.

Ray Lewis may return against the Chargers but he also might not. At some time in the not-too-distant future, Lewis will make the decision that Ravens fans have dreaded for years, which is to finally hang up his cleats for good and retire. While that point will not be happening in the next couple of months, it is good to know that he has left his teammates in great shape, molding his defensive mates into a well-oiled machine, that can remove any one part and keep on humming along, without missing a beat as they continue to shut down opponents week after week after week...

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