...this injury thing that has plagued the Baltimore Ravens this season has been ridiculous. While I won't make any excuses about the level of play compared to last season, some of the issues are more than a little bit coincidental. Injuries can have a huge effect on a team's chemistry, and while some teams are better prepared to deal with them, others like the Ravens are not. Position depth is no longer a luxury due to the speed and physical nature of the game. In the past, players never "tore" an ACL, MCL, PCL, meniscus, patellar tendon, etc. They just "blew out their knee." At the same time, some of these injuries ended careers in the old days while nowadays they can return, sometimes without any lingering effects.
The Ravens have been infected with the injury bug this season. Last year, they escaped any major injuries for virtually the entire season. This year? Look at the list of Ravens that have missed considerable time this season:
Of those listed, only Wilcox, Ogden and Flynn are still playing, while all the others are either still injured on have been placed on Injured Reserve, thereby ending their season (Note: CB Samari Rolle was placed on IR yesterday).
While many readers, especially those of the Ravens opponents may argue that their teams have been also hit by injuries, I doubt it's been to the extent of the Ravens, nor at the key positions that have been affected. Those key positions are indigenous (I don't know if I spelled this word right, but still thought it fit good in here!) to each team, depending on their strengths and weaknesses.
Specifically for the Ravens, while Steve McNair never seemed to play well from the beginning of the season, who knows how his lingering injuries changed him from a 33 year old solid quarterback to a 34 year old aging, decrepid and ineffective QB in just one year. TE Todd Heap was an integral part of this offensive machine (?) and his absence left a gaping hole in their gameplan. Offensively, nothing determines the success of a team more than the offensive line. The Ravens have started as many as all five linemen who were either first or second year players due to injury, and the results have been blown blocking assignments, constant QB pressure, sacks, interceptions and in Kyle Boller's case, injury. The mere fact that running back Willis McGahee is having a solid season is a tribute to his skills, along with the fact that run blocking is a lot easier than pass blocking. Todd Heap's capable backup, Daniel Wilcox, missed most of the season as well, and only recently returned in a limited role due to the lingering effects of his injuries.
Defensively, the front four has lost Trevor Pryce and his 13+ sacks from 2006, as he barely made an appearance on the field this season before being placed on IR. Not having his presence allowed the opposing offenses to double team Terrell Suggs, which greatly limited the Ravens ability to pressure the QB. Along with the lack of pressure, the Ravens have been without BOTH of their starting cornerbacks for much of this season. Starter Samari Rolle only played in eight games this year, two after returning from what was diagnosed as epilepsy. The Ravens lost All-Pro corner Chris McAlister to a knee injury early in the season and while he tried to come back and did so to limit the Patriots Randy Moss for one game, he had to be IR'd as well. When you combine the limited pressure on opposing quarterbacks with the loss of BOTH starting cornerbacks, it's no wonder the opposing QB's have been drooling over passing for career days against this depleted secondary. Believe me, the three most noticeable games that the Ravens have been embarrassed in were the ones that both McAlister and Rolle missed at the same time (Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Miami). Conversely, both McAlister and Rolle played against the Patriots, easily the Ravens best effort of the season. Coincidence? I think not.
In the off season, many of these players will have the chance to rest their beaten and battered bodies. Some will rethink the decision to return and choose retirement over another frustrating season as their body has worn down from the years of abuse. The Ravens will probably make some changes, both on and off the field. They will look at the available free agents, determine their 2008 Draft needs, and plan accordingly. There will be changes, but the nucleus of this team is solid and can still play hard. However, unless a team stays healthy in the NFL, it can turn a season upside down. The Ravens have been proof positive of this theory all season long. Certainly no excuse, but definitely understandable.
NOTE: In addition to placing Samari Rolle on IR yesterday, the Ravens's Todd Heap (thigh) and most importantly, Ray Lewis (dislocated finger) are highly doubtful for Sunday's game at Seattle. OUCH!