By now I'm sure everyone knows that the Baltimore Ravens will be starting the 2012 season without the reigning Defensive Player Of The Year ,Terrell Suggs. It is in these times that the true greatness of teams is tested. Last season the Houston Texans lost their best defensive player, Mario Williams, early in the season and still made the playoffs and boasted the best defense in the NFL (statistically).
Much like Houston, the Ravens will have to find other ways to regenerate the production of their best defensive player. This will be a tall order for new defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Suggs was not only the Ravens best pass rusher but one of their best run defenders as well. With the loss of Suggs, Baltimore will now start the season without both of its starting outside linebackers from last season. Losing Suggs to injury and Jarret Johnson to the San Diego Chargers in free agency this defense will be truly tested.
At present their are conflicting reports as to how long T-Sizzle will be out. It was first reported that he will miss the entire 2012 season but Suggs has since tweeted that he is shooting for a late October to early November return. In any case, when he does return, it is doubtful that he will be playing at full strength at all next season.
Although you can never hope to match the production of such a dominant player, the Ravens do have some pretty good options to at least fill in for the former Sun Devil. Paul Kruger, who has already had a roller coaster ride of an off season, will most likely be forced into the starting OLB position on one side or the other. Rookie Courtney Upshaw will also see significant playing time in his first year in the NFL. Both of these players have the ability to rush the passer and stop the run.
The Ravens also hope to get a lot more out of Haloti Ngata this season as he played the majority of last year injured. With the combination of Kruger, Upshaw and second year DE Pernell McPhee the Ravens should be able to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It may just be a matter of finding more creative ways of doing it.
Another option for Baltimore could be to look to make a trade or sign a player that gets cut by another team before the season for salary cap reasons. Some have mentioned New York Giants DE/OLB Osi Umenyiora as a possible option to replace Suggs, but I'm not sure if the team would be able to afford him in their current salary cap situation. I am a bit fuzzy on how the Suggs' injury could effect their cap situation. I don't know if there is anything they can do to make suggs' salary not count against their cap. If they were to find a way, I'm sure he would not be able to come back and play this season.
Whatever happens, it is sure to be an interesting season. Maybe many of our questions about other players on our defense will get answered since this will be their time to shine. Ehhhemmm... Sergio Kindle... If the team does decide to bring in someone else it will show how little confidence they have in their back-ups performing in a starting role. It may take all of training camp and the preseason to get a grasp on how our new defense will look under Dean Pees and without the best defensive player in the NFL but I have confidence they will still put more than a quality product on the field.
One thing is for sure though, if any team can lose a player like Suggs and still be dominant it is the Baltimore Ravens. This defense is still littered with all stars and Pro Bowl caliber players and the offense has been on its way up the NFL ranks over the past few seasons. Everyone will just have to step their game up that much more. Everyone will have to "Ball So Freaking Hard" it hurts!