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Ravens' defense sputtering, hurting

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Posted Oct. 15, 2012 @ 5:20 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

The Ravens’ defense, stunningly porous in the first six games, faces problems on multiple fronts. Teams have found more success attacking the Ravens with the run and pass than would have ever been fathomed in the not-so-distant past.

Now, injuries loom as a major concern, too. CB Lardarius Webb (torn right ACL) and MLB Ray Lewis (torn right triceps) suffered season-ending injuries in Week Six. The Ravens, however, did get some good news, as DT Haloti Ngata's knee injury, which he played through in Sunday's 31-29 win over the Cowboys, is not serious, head coach John Harbaugh indicated Monday.

Webb, though not a household name like Lewis, has established himself as a bona fide difference maker and the club’s top cornerback. In his absence, the Ravens will turn to the potential-laden Jimmy Smith, whom Baltimore needs to come up big in his second NFL season. Lewis could be replaced by Dannell Ellerbe, a fourth-year pro with previous starting experience.

Even with Webb and Lewis in the lineup, however, the Ravens were having considerable trouble getting stops.

The run defense has come under considerable scrutiny after Dallas gashed Baltimore for 227 yards at 5.4 yards per carry, and teams clearly have been emboldened to test the Ravens in the ground game. Opponents have had 34 or more rush attempts against the Ravens in four of the past five games. By contrast, opponents attempted 34 or more rushes against Baltimore only three times all of last season. While the Ravens are allowing a respectable 3.8 yards per carry, they definitely have struggled in this regard the past two weeks.

Even if the Ravens can fix their run-defense issues, there’s no guarantee their pass defense won’t still be vulnerable. The Ravens are allowing 260.2 passing yards per game and 7.3 yards per pass attempt, averages that rank in the lower half of the league. All things considered, Webb was one of the players the Ravens could least afford to lose.

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