Without Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb, Ravens' defense struggles again

FootballSportsBaltimore RavensRay LewisHouston TexansNFL Pro BowlAFC

Playing without Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis and $50 million shutdown cornerback Lardarius Webb for the first time, the Ravens' defense continued to falter Sunday.

Allowing 420 yards and 27 first downs during a 43-13 defeat to the Houston Texans, the defending AFC North champions allowed their most points in the John Harbaugh era.

Not having Lewis' familiar emotional presence in the middle of the Ravens' defense felt odd to his teammates.

"It's strange," said inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who led the Ravens with a game-high 12 tackles. "You expect Ray Lewis to be around. He's always been around. It's weird. We got to step up. We can't do this again."

Winning for the first time against the Ravens after six consecutive previous losses, including an AFC divisional playoff game last January, the Texans dismantled the Ravens' defense through land and air.

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub completed 23 of 37 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 100.7 quarterback rating.

The defensive line generated little pressure.

The primary bright spot defensively was Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs generating a sack and four tackles in his first game back from a partially torn right Achilles tendon.

"Hell, yeah, it's embarrassing," said Ellerbe, who had no tackles for losses. "We got to see what we did wrong. We got to dissect it and use it to get better."

Schaub emphasized throwing to Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson, connecting with him nine times for 86 yards as he was targeted 10 times. Schaub also found tight end Owen Daniels seven times for 59 yards and a touchdown.

"Andre is a great player," said cornerback Cary Williams, who was guarding Johnson most of the time. "They feed off of him. When he has success, the team has success."

With Lewis on injured reserve/designated to return with a torn right triceps tendon that was surgically repaired last week and Webb out for the season with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, the Ravens plugged in Ellerbe as a starter at Will or weakside inside linebacker and Jameel McClain shifted over to Lewis' vacated middle linebacker spot.

When asked if there was an adjustment period for the Ravens' defense without Lewis and Webb, Williams replied: "I don't think so. I think we have the guys in this locker room to get the job done. We just didn't
play the way we needed to. It didn't go well for us. We just have to go back to the drawing board. The season is long, it's just one loss. We have to work on technique things. Once we get that done, the sky's the limit. It's a frustrating loss, especially with it being a lot of points. We have to come together as a team, as a defense and figure out what's going on."

The Texans converted 8 of 15 third downs and averaged 5.5 yards per offensive play.

They built a time of possession edge of 38:16 to 21:44.

Ellerbe said it's not fair to attribute the problems to Webb and Lewis' injuries.

"I would say it’s [unfair]," Ellerbe said. "We’ve been giving up yards all year. It’s something that I feel like it’s going to click in a game now. We just have to keep working. We have to take a long look in the mirror this week and get things corrected from this game."

Added free safety Ed Reed on getting accustomed to not playing without Lewis and Webb: "If we didn't get used to it today, something's wrong. Ray's not here. We know Lardarius is out for the season, Ray
is a possibility coming back. We have to move on like we have and know that those guys will be back around here and motivating and encouraging."

The Texans went after Smith, too.

The former first-round cornerback was susceptible to double-moves as Kevin Walter caught four passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.

"They double-moved me quite a few times," Smith said. "Anytime they got separation, it was a double-move"

Smith said the loss stung his pride.

"It's beyond embarrassing," he said. "I'm embarrassed of course. Our team is embarrassed. We got to chalk it up and go back to the drawing board. I 100 percent believe in our team. Just because we laid an egg doesn't mean we're going to lose the next time. We're still the Baltimore Ravens."

Texans star running back Arian Foster rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries against the NFL's 26th-ranked defense. The Texans rushed for 181 yards.

He reversed field once for an 8-yard run,, starting out to his right and running away from Haloti Ngata and Paul Kruger and dashing to his left to pick up the first down.

"It's about playing better as a defense, we're not doing our job right now," nose guard Terrence Cody said. "We wanted to build a wall. We were doing it, but not wrapping up and playing the cutback
and they squirted out a few times. I would love to play those guys again."

awilson@baltsun.com

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