After getting through the first quarter of the season with the Texans and the Ravens riding high at the top of their divisions, both have suddenly been grounded, in more ways than one.
First, the Texans lost Pro-Bowl and defensive captain Brian Cushing for the season with a torn ACL and got pounded by the Packers 42-24 the following week in their own stadium. The Ravens, while they did defeat the Dallas Cowboys 31-29, they lost All-Pro and future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis for the season with a torn triceps injury that also threatens to end his tenure in the NFL.
Both the Texans and the Ravens will undoubtedly miss these players, as both play integral parts in their respective defenses as both leaders and by their play. But which unit will be most impacted?
Well, the Texans, despite their Sunday Night Football pounding by Green Bay, have talent on defense to still be productive. They still have J.J. Watt along the defensive line, who is currently leading the league in sacks, along with Brooks Reed, a good pass rusher at linebacker in his own right. Both of these guys were the primary reason the Texans let Mario Williams walk in free agency. Connor Barwin maintains his role at outside linebacker as well, where he remains an option on the field as a rotational player.
Where the Texans will hurt is at linebacker, where they will have the likes of Bradie James, Barrett Ruud, Tim Dobbins, and Mister Alexander to replace the production of Cushing. But, players like James and Ruud have the experience and capability to hold down the interior of the Texans defense.
But the Raven are likely to be hurting the most due to their loss, who has unarugably gone down as one of, if not, the best middle linebackers in NFL History. Lewis is the voice, identity, and soul of the Baltimore Ravens defense, and has been for over 15 seasons. He is undoubtedly the best middle linebacker on that team, and the best player on that defense next to safety Ed Reed and outside linebacker Terell Suggs, who is still unavailable due to an ACL injury.
Unlike Patrick Willis in San Francisco, who has a Pro Bowler in Navarro Bowman next to him, Lewis does not have that kind of guy next to him. The Ravens essentially lose a part of themselves when they lose Ray Lewis for the rest of the season. His presence in the middle and ability as both a downhill blitzer and coverage is an invaluable asset to a Ravens' linebcaker corps having to look for younger blood and more production outside of Lewis and Suggs.
Now, with both of them gone, the Ravens have a huge void at linebacker at both the inside and outside positions. The Ravens have struggled to gain consistent pressure, and one of their best corners in Ladarius Webb has been lost for the season due to a torn ACL he suffered against the Cowboys. The Ravens will be relying upon the play of Brendon Ayanbadejo, Jameel McClain and Dannel Ellerbe at the inside linebacker spot.
When looking at these two, Cushing, while his loss has a huge imoact, Lewis' loss leaves a huge voice, as he is essentially the identity of the Baltimore Ravens' defense, and he has held that defense together for a long time. His loss will be tough for the Ravens' defense to overcome.