Webb's injury costliest of many

Rookie cornerback was key to increased defensive success

December 22, 2009|By Mike Preston

Never in the history of the Ravens has a third-round draft pick meant so much so fast.

Rookie Lardarius Webb, the team's best starting cornerback, will miss the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Webb sustained what was first described as a sprained right knee in the third quarter of the Ravens' lopsided win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

The injuries continue to mount for the Ravens in their stretch run to the playoffs, but none is more costly than Webb's. In starting the past four games for the injured Fabian Washington, Webb has been the key player in the increased success of the defense, especially in the secondary.

Granted, the Ravens played some of the weaker competition in the NFL the past two weeks in the Detroit Lions and Chicago, but Webb also played well against the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I just think that hurts," inside linebacker Ray Lewis said. "You try to replace people, but you can't. I mourn for a kid like that. He was playing so great for us, and now he's probably out for the year. He's out for the good part of the season, when everything is coming down the stretch. As usual though, it's next man up. Whoever it is, we have to find somebody to fill that role. Even on kickoff returns.

"He really has been huge for us and has really changed field position for us. You never want to see those things happen, but in this business, those things happen. You just have to keep on moving on."

It will be tough for the Ravens to move on, especially traveling to Pittsburgh on Sunday for another game that will have a huge impact on the playoff standings.

The Steelers are coming off an emotional 37-36 win over the Packers in a game in which Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards. The Steelers have a group of talented receivers - Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, rookie Mike Wallace and tight end Heath Miller.

And now the Ravens have to play them without Webb.

"First and foremost, it's just unbelievable how many injuries we've had this year," reserve cornerback Chris Carr said. "Fabian and now Webb. We shouldn't be disappointed because we're all family and we're all out there and playing, but for stuff like that to happen to one of your friends - let alone one of your teammates - you never wish that upon anyone. He'll be missed. We're definitely going to miss him. We miss Fabian."

At this point of the season, though, it's almost near impossible to replace Webb unless the Ravens sign a free agent like former Raven Chris McAlister. The Ravens cut McAlister after last season after he and coach John Harbaugh had several run-ins during the regular season.

If the Ravens bring back McAlister, it will be because they are desperate for a cornerback and general manager Ozzie Newsome has bridged a gap between McAlister and Harbaugh.

McAlister recently played in two games with the New Orleans Saints, and he played well. If the Ravens can't get McAlister, they might use Carr or Frank Walker as either the starter or nickel back but still would have to find a replacement in the dime package. Carr has improved slightly since the middle of the season, and Walker has performed poorly since training camp.

Carr is considered too soft and Walker too slow. Webb's absence will only hurt a secondary that has been victimized by big plays whenever they have played a big-time quarterback with a strong set of receivers.

Against Pittsburgh, the Ravens are going to see an elite quarterback. If they get to the playoffs, they're probably going to see a few more in Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer or Philip Rivers.

And there will be no Webb.

Despite his size (5 feet 10, 175 pounds), Webb was on track to become a shutdown cornerback. He is deceptively strong, and fast enough to run with any receiver. With the blitz-happy scheme of the Ravens in the past, he was ideal because he could flourish in one-on-one situations.

As Webb became more comfortable with the scheme, the Ravens could gamble more with their blitzes. With Webb in the game, the Ravens could basically shut down one side of the field. Webb was quick to come up in run support and had become one of the team's best tacklers.

Just as important, Webb was effective as a kick returner. He was instant offense. But now, that's all gone. With Webb out, the Ravens' chances of making the playoffs, and advancing deep into the postseason, have diminished significantly as well.

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