This feature appears each Monday on the Baltimore Sports Blitz. It’s just like “What They’re Saying About the Ravens,” but it includes blogger Matt Vensel saying something about what those people are saying. Got it?
--- Pete Prisco of CBS Sports believes the Ravens might be better off without injured linebacker Ray Lewis.
“Let me start this out by saying I think Ray Lewis is the best middle linebacker ever. But let me also say this, something nobody else will say: The Ravens might be better off without Lewis,” he wrote. “Yes, I said it. Lewis has been horrible for most of this season. He gets engulfed by linemen and doesn't get off blocks. You never like to see a veteran like him go down, especially this late in his career, but a younger, faster player might be what the Ravens need now inside. … The bigger hit to the Ravens' defense is the loss of Lardarius Webb. He is their best cover player. Without him, they lack a premier cover player. That will show up without a pass rush.”
Matt’s take: We will soon find out if the Ravens really are better off without Lewis, but there’s no question that Lewis has looked more human in the past two games than he ever has. He had trouble bursting through a wall of bodies, and even though he leads the team in tackles, many of them came at least a few yards down the field. He still brought all those intangibles, but it’s impossible to quantify how much they were worth between the white lines.
“We've collected data on Webb's performance in 2011, and the results are jarring. Webb gave up 7.7 yards per pass in 2011, but this season that number has fallen to 4.7,” he wrote. “Only 37 percent of passes thrown in Webb's direction have been complete. That means Webb's success rate this year is, at minimum, 63 percent. Realistically, when you account for short completions, it's probably somewhere in the 75 percent range. Either way, it's an enormous improvement from the 53 percent rate Webb posted in 2011. ... Revis is generally considered the NFL's top cornerback, but in 2011 his success rate was 62 percent, and he allowed 5.5 yards per pass. In prior seasons, Revis' yards per pass dipped as low as 3.5, but his success rate never went higher than 72 percent. In other words, losing Webb is as significant, if not more, than the Jets losing Revis.”
Matt’s take: Webb and Revis are different players who excel at different things, but there is no question that Webb was on his way to becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, if he wasn’t there already. These stats simply reinforce the eyeball test. There is no questioning what Lewis has accomplished in his career and what he means to the Ravens and this city, but in 2012, losing Webb will hurt a lot more than losing Lewis.
--- Mike Freeman of CBS Sports says the Ravens were good enough to overcome shaky defense recently, but can it last?
“The Ravens are good but they are also potentially in deep trouble,” he wrote. “They have to find a way to solve a glaring issue or it will blow up in their faces. It's only a matter of time. The stories about Baltimore's problems stopping the run can no longer be called a media creation. The problem can no longer be blamed entirely on Ray Lewis, either. … This is a full-blown red alert. All hands to battle stations for Baltimore. The run defense is busted. Something is wrong. The toughness that was once a trademark of that run defense is gone.”
Matt’s take: What’s troubling about the struggles is that there are many areas of concern. The Ravens are uncharacteristically getting pushed around against the run. They rarely come close to touching quarterbacks. With more time for quarterbacks to throw, the secondary hasn’t always been able to keep up with receivers. And new defensive coordinator Dean Pees hasn’t been able to put his players in the best position to succeed.
--- ESPN's Jamison Hensley says the Ravens are the NFL's ultimate survivors even though they aren't winning pretty.
“You can say the Ravens win ugly. You can even say they're lucky. You can rip apart Baltimore's defense for being a shell of its elite self. You can criticize a Ravens offense that has been inconsistent the past couple of games,” he wrote. “These Ravens are far from a perfect team. They aren't a dominant team. No one on the Ravens would even suggest this. So, what are the Ravens? They're winners, plain and simple. As New England loses at Seattle, Cincinnati falls at Cleveland and Pittsburgh gets upset at Tennessee, the Ravens shouldn't feel guilty in how they win by any means necessary.”
Matt’s take: My former colleague and I are on the same page. As I wrote after Sunday’s win, the Ravens are flawed, but they are good. They are one of two AFC teams with a winning record and they have a two-game cushion in their division. Despite their flaws and the mounting injuries, do you really think this team won’t find a way to win 10 or 11 games and make the playoffs? And once they are there, anything can happen.
--- Jarrett Bell of USA Today thinks Lewis will go out on his own terms.
“This cannot be the way Ray Lewis wants to go out. Sure, the iconic-but-physically broken Baltimore Ravens linebacker is 37. A torn triceps just ended his 17th NFL season. He's not the same player that he used to be,” he wrote. “Yet knowing Lewis, this marks a new challenge. A reason to prove something else. They had to drag Brett Favre and Joe Montana off the field. Peyton Manning had four surgical procedures on his neck and came back. Lewis is cut from that same passionate cloth. He usually dictates his own terms.”
Matt’s take: We have yet to hear from Lewis -- and Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn’t want to speak for him on Monday -- but I just can’t see Lewis leaving the game like this, with his defense in shambles, his individual performance being scrutinized and a Lombardi Trophy still within the realm of possibilities. I bet he’ll be back.