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Can you Imagine?

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The Chicago Bears placed All Pro inside linebacker Brian Urlacher on Injured Reserve (IR), thereby ending his 2009 NFL season after only one game, or just a part of it. Urlacher dislocated his right wrist in Sunday evening's loss to the Green Bay Packers. He underwent surgery and is expected to be fully recovered in time for the 2010 season.

However, for now, his season is over and the Bears' team leader on what was considered an elite defensive unit will have to stand on the sidelines and watch the final 15 games in street clothes. While football is a team game, it is indeed possible for one player to make such a huge difference either by playing or not playing, that can make the difference between playing late into January or not.

What if it was the Baltimore Ravens All World LB, Ray Lewis?

(More on "Can You Imagine" coming after the "Jump")

If Ray Lewis was injured in the same manner as Urlacher and out for the rest of the season, this defense would get by because there are so many playmakers on the team. However, make no bones about it, his presence would be greatly missed by them. Despite his advanced age, the 14 year veteran is still the unquestioned leader of the defense and the center of its universe. Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata are all better players with Ray on the field. Opponents gameplan for where they expect him to be and before every snap, notice how opposing QB's look around to see where he is lining up?

If Ray Lewis is out of the Ravens lineup for any extended period of time, the defense will lose its edge. Just like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who figure to feel the effects of the temporary loss of safety Troy Polamalu, one guy does make a difference. Teams have one less key person to concern themselves about prior to the snap of the ball.  While I wouldn't expect any team's defensive gameplan to change without their star, their performance of that plan and what goes on just before and after the ball is snapped will be different.

Ravens fans would panic, write off the season, expect the worst and perhaps even get up on the ledges of tall buildings just thinking about what the season would be like without the great Ray Lewis. However, the time to start thinking about that is coming up sooner than later. While he just signed a new contract, he should play only a couple of more years at best and as the body ages, it becomes more susceptible to injury. Ray stays in great shape which helps, but at some point, he will hang the cleats up and then what? At least at that point, the team will have the opportunity to prepare for that loss of production and determine a suitable replacement. However, the Bears have been thrust into that predicament only one game into the 2009 season, one in which they traded two #1 draft picks for an All Pro QB that was supposed to take Urlacher and the rest of the team to the playoffs and perhaps beyond. Now what?

Can you imagine?