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Three questions the Ravens may mull over with Ray Lewis out for the season with a triceps injury

Updated: Ravens coach John Harbaugh announced Monday afternoon, Ray Lewis is out for the season with a complete triceps tear.

As we await the results of an MRI that will determine if Ray Lewis out for the season with a triceps injury, there are plenty of questions that the Ravens must soon answer if the result confirms their worst fears. One of those questions is whether we will ever see the 37-year-old linebacker scowling on a football field again.

We may not know what the future holds for Lewis for a while. Regardless, there are pressing concerns about how the Ravens will fare the rest of this season without Lewis patrolling the middle of their reeling defense.

Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain both have plenty of experience alongside Lewis, and they started three games together last year -- and the defense played pretty well -- while Lewis was sidelined with a toe injury. McClain has been a starter at inside linebacker in 2012, but their snaps have been distributed pretty evenly. There is also a chance that Albert McClellan, who started one game there last year, could move back inside.

Given all this uncertainty, I reached out to Gordon McGuinness of the fine football stats and analysis website Pro Football Focus to supply some relevant stats that might help frame some of the questions that the Ravens will have to answer if Lewis is sidelined.

QUESTION 1: HOW MUCH OF A DROP-OFF MIGHT THERE BE?

The play of Lewis started to catch the eye of national media last week, and Lewis struggled again Sunday as the Dallas Cowboys became the second straight team to rush for more than 200 yards against the Ravens. But he is not alone in his struggles in 2012. McGuinness said that Pro Football Focus has given negative grades to McClain and Ellerbe, too. These grades are subjective, of course, but Lewis graded out as a negative-4.5 overall while McClain was a negative-3.0 and Ellerbe was a negative-6.2. Ellerbe has gotten limited opportunities against the run, but he has fared the best out of the three in that area. Still, Lewis is a sure tackler, having missed just one tackle this season. When it comes to how Lewis fared in coverage, he has been targeted 21 times by opposing quarterbacks and allowed 15 catches for 195 yards.

QUESTION 2: WILL McCLAIN BE A LIABILITY AGAINST THE PASS?

The Ravens rewarded McClain this spring with a three-year deal and he has started every game this season. But on average, he has only played a few more snaps than Ellerbe per game. That’s because the Ravens take him off the field in passing situations so that Ellerbe can play alongside Lewis in the team’s nickel package. But is McClain really a liability? According to McGuinness, McClain has actually graded out positively in coverage, though as was the case with Ellerbe’s grades against the run, it is a smaller sample size to evaluate. McClain has been targeted 10 times, allowing eight catches for 96 yards. He has broken up one pass.

QUESTION 3: WHAT WOULD McCLELLAN BRING TO THE TABLE?

McClellan started at inside linebacker in the Thanksgiving win over the San Francisco 49ers last season. He made four tackles and whiffed on one while grading out with a negative-0.5 on the night. He has played just four snaps at inside linebacker in 2012, according to McGuinness, but he has been solid against the run while starting at outside linebacker and has yet to miss a tackle. Overall, Pro Football Focus grades him at plus-6.5, which is second on the team to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (plus-11.4). If McClellan were to move inside, Paul Kruger would start in his place, but he has fared better coming off the bench recently.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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