There was an obvious connection between the Ravens three-game losing streak and the injury to inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
In weeks 13 through 15 of the 2012NFL regular season, the Baltimore Ravens hit rock bottom for a team that pretty much still knew they were headed to the playoffs for the fifth straight season. Three straight losses, two on the game's final play, had the offense under scrutiny and the defense feeling the heat of criticism.
At the same time, there was one common denominator during that streak. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe missed all three games due to injury but thankfully has returned at the right time. His return coincided with the Ravens 33-14 beatdown of the New York Giants this past Sunday, ending the team's three-game losing streak.
A mere coincidence? I think not. Ellerbe is quickly becoming one of the brightest new young stars of the Ravens defense. For a team known for producing solid linebacking play, Dannell might just be the next great Ravens linebacker, following Bart Scott, Adalius Thomas, and Jarret Johnson over the years.
Ellerbe was an undrafted free agent out of Georgia in 2009 and had a solid rookie season. He dropped off a bit in his sophomore season and seemed to be in head coach John Harbaugh's doghouse last season. However, this year has been a breakout season, as he has virtually doubled up his next best season, starting his last six games after coming off the bench for the first six.
"Ellerbeast," as some fans have come to call him, is third on the team in total tackles (65), and has the most of any linebacker on the team. His five tackles in Sunday's victory led the Ravens as he was an obvious force on the defense. For the season, Dannell also has 4.5 sacks, two passes defensed and one forced fumble.
Only a questionable offsides penalty on Terrell Suggs prevented Ellerbe from getting a sack on a great timing play where he hit the line of scrimmage, timing the snap of the ball perfectly and splitting the Giants offensive line for an easy sack of Eli Manning. That one play showed that his confidence level is as high as it's always been, which happens when you are learning from the game's greatest linebacker, Ray Lewis, who was cheering Ellerbe on from the sidelines.
When Lewis returns, most likely fro the playoffs, expect to see Ellerbe lined up right next to him, which should be a welcome sight for the Ravens and the fans. Having the past and future stars on the field together could be the catalyst to return the Ravens defense to the one we remember for most of the past decade.