Losing Terrell Suggs is obviously a huge loss for the Baltimore Ravens defense, but the team does not need to look to replace him to get back to the AFC Championship Game, instead they simply need to play well in big spots.
There is no way a team can play at the same level or achieve the same things when it loses its top player. Whether it be offense or defense, losing a key member to a unit hurts on the field, in the locker room and in the huddle, but it does not mean all is lost for the Ravens. They are not anywhere close to being perfect defensively and there are a lot of holes and question marks, but the team just needs to pick its spots to perform well.
Racking up the sacks, turnovers, 90-yard runs and bomb passes for touchdowns are sexy and certainly make a team fun to watch, but they aren’t necessary to win the game. For a team to succeed in the NFL, they simply have to prevent the opposing team from getting into the end zone just enough so they can get into the end zone more. This may sound like a condescending lesson on the football basics, but so often people forget it is about stopping the other team from scoring, not lighting up a stat sheet.
Suggs is a huge member of the defensive core, is a leader and provides pressure off the edge on practically every down. He is a nice weapon to have, but it isn’t like he is the only weapon the Ravens have. His loss will be missed but with Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody in the middle joined by Pernell McPhee and Courtney Upshaw coming off the end, the Ravens should be able to stop the opposition from gaining first downs and driving down the field.
What the group is going to need to learn is that stopping the running back short by a yard on third and three, gets the same result as blowing him up in the backfield does. Sure, it may change the net field position you gain after a punt by a few yards, but then it is up to Joe Flacco and the offense to maintain the same consistency.
Which brings up another point of, what do the Ravens do if they don’t have Ray Rice too?
Rice is incredibly important to this team. He is their home run threat, the five-tool player — can you tell I have been watching a lot of baseball? — and a can’t miss guy when it comes to predicting performance. Yet he isn’t an integral part of the team’s success and if he holds out for part of the season for a new contract, the Ravens can still win. Again, just like the defense, the offense comes down to consistency. It isn’t about scoring the fastest or in the fewest plays, it is instead about scoring often and more than the other team.
Big plays are needed and at times you need to go deep, but the Ravens should not get away from just taking the little gains. Three plays of at least four yards gets you a first down and if you can string together a lot of four yard plays, before you know it you are in the end zone. For the offense, this may be key if only because that is how they will have to play in the postseason.
Too often team’s get caught up in the big plays and explosive shows of force, but in the playoffs those big plays seem to disappear. As a result, it is the teams who can methodically move down the field who often come out on top. The Ravens were not that team against the Patriots last year and need to instead pick their spots to go for it all on both offense and defense.
With potentially several key play makers missing on defense and at least one or two questions on offense, the Ravens are going to need to pick when they want go for the big sack, interception or pass. They have the ability to make the plays, but it isn’t like years past where a missed play on first down can be rectified by a big play on second or third. This team is going to have to make sure it plays within its limitations and understand they are not super human.
If they can play smart football, which by all accounts they will based on the leadership and coaching staff they have, the Ravens will be one of the best teams in football again this year. It is not inconceivable to think they can capture the North and make it back to the AFC Championship Game. That said, the team may look a little different than years past and instead of being a threat to make big plays on every down, fans may have to hold on and wait for the plays to happen at the right time.