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3. What's going on at inside linebacker?

It's a rough situation for the Ravens at inside linebacker. First, middle linebacker Ray Lewis isn't back this week. He remains on the injured reserve-designated to return list with a surgically repaired right triceps. Lewis has to build strength in that arm, which has experienced some expected atrophy, to ward off blockers and be able to protect himself on the field. Contrary to reports that forecasted Lewis would return for the Broncos game, he's simply not ready to play yet. The team remains hopeful that the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year will return at some point this season as he has made rapid progress is his recovery from an injury suffered against the Dallas Cowboys. Starting middle linebacker Jameel McClain has been declared out with a neck stinger and back injury sustained against the Washington Redskins. The Ravens will make a decision early this week on whether to place McClain on injured reserve. Starting inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is going to try to play Sunday against the Broncos, but he's not a lock to return after missing the past two games with a sprained right ankle and a left foot injury. The ankle is the bigger problem because it affects his mobility. Ellerbe is the Ravens' top inside blitzer with 4 1/2 sacks and he's sorely needed on the field. If warm-ups don't go well, then Ellerbe will be scratched for the third week in a row and the Ravens will keep outside linebacker Albert McClellan inside with former practice squad player Josh Bynes to start again at middle linebacker and wear the headset to communicate the defensive signals from defensive coordinator Dean Pees. The Broncos won't have former Ravens running back Willis McGahee on the field Sunday, but Knowshon Moreno has excelled lately as the featured ball carrier. Moreno rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders, the second-highest output for him ever. For the Ravens' defense, everything revolves around the chess match that defines matching wits with the cerebral Manning. "It's all driven by the Peyton Manning offense, the idea that they are going to try to run and pass against the most favorable look," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "When Willis was in there, all year their running game has been really effective. Of course, there is not much drop off with Knowshon. They just have a really good offensive line, physical offensive line, and they have three really good running backs. But, they run against light boxes, because that's what they want to do. That's what Peyton does. "If you are going to defend the run, then he's going to throw. It's not complicated, but the way he does it and what he recognizes, it becomes a little bit of matchup of trying to fool him a little bit and him trying to fool us a little bit. .... It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out, but really it's up to us to play good fundamental defense -- good up front, knock-back defense, play downhill with our linebackers, recognize play-action, those kinds of things. If we do that, we'll stop the run."
Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun
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