Every team in the NFL deals with injuries throughout the regular season, but few deal with the number of significant injuries the Baltimore Ravens did this season. Even fewer overcome those injuries to earn a berth in the Super Bowl.
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While most teams hope to avoid serious injuries during training camp and the preseason, the Ravens didn't even make it to camp before being hit with their first serious injury. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs suffered a partial tear of his Achilles' tendon during a conditioning test in late April. The initial diagnosis was Suggs would miss nine months to a year, but Suggs refused to entertain that timetable and ended up missing just the first six games of the season.
"They told me I was out for the season, and I decided with my heart I wasn't gonna accept that," Suggs said, via NFL.com.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, just as they were getting ready to activate Suggs from the physically unable to perform list, they lost two of their best defensive players. In Week 6 against Dallas, linebacker Ray Lewis suffered a torn triceps while cornerback Ladarius Webb tore his ACL. Both players were placed on injured reserve and while Lewis would be activated in time for the playoffs, Webb missed the rest of the season.
Even though the loss of Lewis was big, Webb's injury may have been even costlier. Not only was Webb the Ravens top cover cornerback, but he was developing into one of the top cornerbacks in the entire NFL.
With Lewis out and Suggs nursing his way back from injury the Ravens tried to make due with a makeshift group of linebackers. Even with Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe filling in adequately, they too got hit by the injury bug. Ellerbe finished second on the team in tackles, but missed three games due to an ankle injury.
A week after losing Ellerbe, the Ravens lost Jameel McClain for the season. McClain suffered a neck injury in Week 14 and after being ruled out two weeks he was placed on injured reserve prior to the season finale. To make matters even worse, Suggs suffered a bicep injury late in the season and was forced to miss two games down the stretch.
The Ravens linebacker corps continually battled injuries, but it wasn't the only unit to get hit on the defensive side of the ball. In addition to losing Webb, two other key members of Baltimore's secondary also dealt with injuries. Bernard Pollard led the Ravens in tackles but missed the final three games of the regular season with a chest injury. The Ravens other safety, Ed Reed was able to play in all 16 games, but was limited in the majority of them. Reed dealt with knee and shoulder injuries throughout the season and was listed on the injury report in each of the final nine weeks of the regular season.
On the defensive line, All-Pro Halot Ngata weas limited to 14 games due to knee and shoulder injuries. Even when he did play, he was not his usual All-Pro self, likely due to lingering injuries. Ngata was listed as questionable seven times this season.
The injuries and lack on continuity obviously took their toll on the Ravens as Baltimore's defense struggled. A year after they finished third in the NFL in yards allowed at 288.9 per game, Baltimore dropped to 17th in the league allowing 350.9 yards per game.
Of the 11 players projected to start on defense prior to the season, all but three missed at least one game during the regular season. The group combined to miss 41 total games with three different players landing on injured reserve.
Fortunately, for the Ravens, a number of Baltimore's injured players have come back in time for the playoffs. Lewis returned for the playoffs and leads the NFL in tackles during the postseason. After allowing 21.5 points per game during the regular season, the Ravens have allowed just 19.0 points per game in the playoffs, tied for the fewest of the eight teams. That's even more impressive when you consider they've faced the two highest scoring offenses in the NFL.
Injuries may have knocked the Ravens defense from an elite unit to an average one, but somehow they are still playing.