The big drop-off expected when a turf toe injury shelved 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis for the Ravens’ past three games hasn’t materialized yet.
Opponents are scoring an average of 13.3 points against the Lewis-less defense. Over that same span, the unit has compiled 14 sacks, caused five turnovers and handcuffed offenses to a 295-yard average and 252 total rushing yards.
The Ravens haven’t fallen off, thanks to the elevated play of Lewis’ replacements at inside linebacker. Jameel McClain has led the defense or shared the lead in tackles in each of the three contests, and Dannell Ellerbe, who has joined McClain as a starter in two of three games, tied McClain with a team-high seven tackles in Sunday’s 24-10 win against the Cleveland Browns.
McClain, Ellerbe and McClellan were undrafted rookies who latched onto the team, making their production that much more rewarding.
“It’s nice. It’s nice that other people get to see that,” McClain said Wednesday. “This organization knows what it’s doing. They didn’t bring us in here for nothing. We’re not a mistake. We weren’t given anything – any of us players. We had to work for everything, and it’s just nice to reap a little bit of the reward. But the journey’s not done. This is just a small step, a small steppingstone in our careers.”
McClain, who ranks second on the defense in tackles with 59, is beginning to initiate discussions that the Ravens might have found Lewis’ successor when he decides to retire. But McClain hasn’t started those conversations.
“That isn’t me talking,” he said with a laugh. “There’s only one Ray Lewis, and I’m Jameel McClain.”