It's Official: Webb, R. Lewis Are Out For The Season
NOTES: 3RD-DOWN DOINGS; WARE INVISIBLE; CORRENTE REFS AT HOUSTON
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- Longtime baseball fans probably remember the days when the old Kansas City Athletics served as a de facto farm team for the New York Yankees.
Standout players such as Roger Maris, Ryne Duren, Bob Cerv and others were part of a absurdly long trade pipeline during the late '50s and early '60s, which again made the Yankees a dynastic, flagship franchise and the Athletics an also-ran team that eventually moved to Oakland.
No one knows whether the Houston Texans, the Ravens' opponents this Sunday, will suffer that same fate.
But during the past several offseasons, nearly two dozen key players have departed the Texans via trade or free agency, and yet the Texans still hold a one-loss record that mirrors Baltimore's.
But it will be a high-profile battle of two of only three AFC teams with winning records (San Diego is the other, at 3-2) that don't feel much like winners right now. That's partly because of the Texans' nationally televised loss to Green Bay.
But locally, the Ravens are dealing with the confirmation that, according to a magnetic-resonance imaging test conducted late Monday morning, cornerback Lardarius Webb (torn left anterior-cruciate knee ligament) will go on season-ending injured reserve for the second time during his four-year career.
Not only that, but head coach John Harbaugh found out moments before Monday afternoon's weekly media session that 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis would miss the remainder of the season with a complete triceps tear.
On the positive side, a possible knee injury to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was characterized as minor, but it didn't lessen Harbaugh's pain.
"I can't really characterize my emotions," Harbaugh said. "I just feel bad for those guys. They put in so much work. ...
"I think [Webb] had been one of the premier corners in this league. I'm biased because I see him every day. ... I admire Ray Lewis. I think everyone here does."
It will be Lewis' third time on injured reserve, having missed the last five games of 2002 (shoulder) and the final 10 of 2005 (hamstring). In 2004, he sat out the season finale against Miami (wrist), but was not officially placed on IR.
Webb's injury means that the Ravens are the third contending team to have lost their top cornerback because of a season-ending injury, following Atlanta's Brent Grimes and the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis.
Webb, who just observed his 27th birthday last Friday, signed a six-year, $50 million contract during the offseason, making him the only Raven under contract through the 2017 season. He missed the final month of his rookie campaign in 2009, when he tore his right ACL on a kick-return play.
Through five games, Webb had 25 total tackles, tied for third on the team with Cary Williams and Dannell Ellerbe, and six pass deflections. Sunday, he was not credited with a tackle before colliding with Dallas wideout Dez Bryant early during the game and incurring the injury.
Special-teamer Chykie Brown played in Webb's absence on Sunday, as did Corey Graham. But both Graham and rookie fifth-round pick Asa Jackson might have to be called on in the occasional nickel situations in which Webb played; Jackson is one of several players that has not been active for any games so far this year.
"We will always need more corners," Harbaugh said about the possibility of adding a street free agent. "We will always need more of everything."
As for Lewis, his spot could be filled by two inside linebackers that have already gained a lot of experience in Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe. Outside man Albert McClellan could also move back inside, where he has played before.
One of the three ex-Texans on the Ravens' roster, receiver/returner Jacoby Jones, has a decidedly Baltimore-esque approach to the situation.
"If you look at it, we are the Ravens," Jones said. "We do our thing no matter what. Being the Ravens, people come to play us hard, no matter what. It's the NFL. It's hard to get a win in the NFL. That's accomplishing [something special], to be 5-1.
"We're on to the next game, try to get another one. That's what it is."
The next game is against Jones' former teammates in Houston, a squad that most observers think would have won a Divisional Playoff game in Baltimore had quarterback Matt Schaub and other key players been fully healthy.
But it's no secret that earlier this year, the Ravens weren't fully effective even when fully healthy.
This year, they have already reached some dubious defensive milestones for the first time since the 1996 debut team struggled with a mix of young, unproven talent and disgruntled veterans that would have rather been in Cleveland.
- For the first time in team history, the Ravens have allowed individual 300-yard passing games in three straight weeks, yielding them to Philadelphia's Michael Vick, New England's Tom Brady and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden.
- For the fourth time in league history -- the first time since 1985 -- and for the only time in team lore to date, the Ravens have allowed back-to-back team rushing performances of 200 or more yards, giving up 214 to Kansas City and 227 to Dallas.
- Baltimore has lost the time-of-possession battle during five of six games, allowing Dallas to hold the ball for more than 40 minutes. As a result, the Ravens ran 49 plays from scrimmage, 30 fewer than the Cowboys. The Ravens are averaging 26:50 per game, the exact average figure they allowed their opponents for the entire 2008 season.
- The possession quandry ties into the fact that although the Ravens have passed the ball 83 more times than they have run it (including sacks allowed), their six opponents so far have managed a near-perfect balance of 213 runs and 225 pass dropbacks.
And with Webb out, the well-known mantra "next man up," popularized in a 2005 John Feinstein book that detailed the Ravens' massive injury problems that year, becomes even more pronounced.
"It's not 'next man up.' " said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who likely starts opposite Williams for the near future. "It's, like, next six guys up.
"But we’re just stepping up, playing hard and bouncing along. For me, I think I'll be starting for a while. I feel bad for [Lardarius] Webb, but I'm very excited. That’s what I've been waiting for. It's my time to shine, which is good, but I feel bad for Webb.
"Lardarius is a special type of guy with a lot of talent. He brings such an impact to our defense that it hurts. But, like I said, next man up. Our hearts go out to Webb and his situation, but when the game plays, you have to go."
But once a team goes forth to meet its objectives, how can it truly reach them given the unpredictability the league offers -- for the first time since 1990, every team has at least one win during the first six weeks -- on a regular basis?
"We can come out and say we played our best football, and the other team can be playing really good, too, and the game might not turn out the way you want it," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "These games are crazy. Both sides of the ball have really good players, and you have to go out there and give it your best each week and prepare your best each week, and you've just got to perform.
"You've got to take it play by play, because if you don't do that, there's so many different things that can happen. And I think we're close. But like I said, it's kind of tough to quantify that and really say how close you are."
Right now, the only thing on which the Ravens are truly converging seems to be an uncertain future, one that resembles that of the long-ago Kansas City Athletics.
THIRD-DOWN DOINGS: Even though the Ravens have converted only 37.3 percent of their third-down plays this year, they turned in their best single-game performance of the year against Dallas despite possessing the ball for less than 20 minutes.
The Ravens were successful on six of 10 third-down plays for a 60 percent success rate, breaking the previous 2012 single-game high of 50 percent (4-for-8), set against New England.
With the Cowboys leading early during the second quarter, 10-3, a key third-and-7 was converted when a rushed Flacco dumped off to Ray Rice, who then sprinted for a 43-yard gain to the Dallas 22. Rice would eventually score a game-tying touchdown to cap the drive.
"The biggest thing, when you don't get the ball that much, is you have to go out there and you have to get that first down," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "... You can kind of get into your rhythm and settle in a little bit.
"The two drives in the second half there, we went three-and-out. It got a little frustrating, [but] we kept our heads on great, went out there, and when we needed to, we drove all the way down there and got some points."
The bad-news side of the coin is that the Cowboys converted eight of 15 third-down plays, a 53 percent rate, which is an opponent high for the Ravens this season. For the year, Ravens foes have converted almost 40 percent of their third-down plays.
Oddly, Ravens opponents have had exactly 15 third-down plays during five of six games this season. Kansas City was the exception (13).
'WARE' WAS HE?: During the final game at Texas Stadium in 2008, Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware had eight tackles, two for losses, and a forced fumble against the Ravens.
But Ware, one of the league's leading active sack artists (105.5 career sacks), was held to just one on Sunday and did no further damage, despite the Ravens' respect for him.
"Oh, man, those guys were great," said tackle Michael Oher, who allowed the sack on a spin move. "That's one of the best defenses we'll see all year. Those guys are great across the board. They do a great job at a lot of different things."
Not even inside stunts and twists were that effective against the Ravens, who inserted 36-year-old Bobbie Williams into the starting lineup at left guard, which was ostensibly the plan when he first signed.
"Just keep communicating," Williams said when asked about the key to success. "... Just try to execute. You know, if we execute, then that means they can't. So, that means we win."
With Ware held in check and Anthony Spencer deactivated, outside pass-rush specialist Victor Butler, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and the rest of the Cowboys could manage only three quarterback hits on Joe Flacco all day.
"They're a pretty physical defense," Flacco said. "They're a good defense, and they've got guys that can get to the passer. So, I think we did a good job all day of limiting that and getting the ball out of my hands. I think our receivers did a good job of beating the coverage pretty quickly, so I didn't have to hold onto it too long."
CORRENTE TO REF: The Ravens bookended their 2011 season with AFC North Division wins, a home blowout against Pittsburgh and a road win at Cincinnat that clinched the division crown.
The common thread to both of those games is that Tony Corrente was the referee, as he will be for Sunday's game at Houston (1 p.m; WJZ-TV; WIYY-FM).
The story is well-documented: Baltimore center Matt Birk accidentally knocked Corrente to the ground while he was trying to break up a post-whistle fight during the Pittsburgh game, causing an injury that, upon closer inspection, revealed Corrente had cancer.
Corrente missed part of last season, but returned to the field to complete his scheduled assignments, thanking Birk and the Ravens for the quirky twist of fate that led to his diagnosis and treatment.
Corrente is a Cal State-Fullerton graduate, who is now in his 18th year in the league. He was promoted to referee in 1998, was the alternate ref for Super Bowl XL (Steelers-Seahawks) and got the assignment for Super Bowl XLI (Colts-Bears).
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Considering the injuries and the back-and-forth nature of the game, the Ravens' 31-29 win against Dallas had a definite sigh-of-relief feel to it when Dan Bailey's 51-yard last-second try went wide left.
"Thank you, Jesus," running back Ray Rice said. "He may have pushed that thing a little to the left."
Posted Oct. 15, 2012