2013 has been a season of transitions for the Baltimore Ravens.
Long-time leaders have moved on to either new teams or new endeavors. The team dynamic, both on and off the field, has changed dramatically.
While some out there have looked to the lack of performance and execution as a leadership void, I think it’s another problem entirely.
What the Ravens lack right now is a closer.
I know… I just said that what the Ravens lack wasn’t a leadership void, but a closer. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are the prime defensive and team leaders missing from the 2013 Ravens.
What’s the difference? Being the team leader and the closer are two separate roles entirely. Baltimore fans have simply been spoiled by having two future Hall of Fame players who could fill both roles.
Closing, aside from leading by example, has nothing to do with leadership. It’s a killer instinct.
It’s knowing when to strike and having the stones to follow through.
It’s the guy who comes up with the huge interception that puts the opposing team away. It’s the guy who makes the game saving tackle in the final seconds.
It’s the guy who comes up with the big sack when it’s needed.
The Ravens have had some decent defensive production so far in 2013. Baltimore currently ranks 13th in total defense and 3rd in the league in sacks. Not altogether Raven-like, but not terrible.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t been enough. Five of the Ravens’ six losses have been decided by six points or less. This includes games against the Bills, Packers, Steelers, Browns, and Bears.
Except for the game in Buffalo, the Baltimore defense broke down and let the opposing team drive down the field to win the game in either the 4th quarter or overtime. When the team was in dire need of a closer, no one stepped up to fill the void. Much like O’s fans wondered about Jim Johnson for much of this past summer, where would the Ravens be if they had been able to close out those games and turn losses into wins?
So which Raven defenders could fill the void? Here are my thoughts on a few candidates:
Terrell Suggs: T-Sizzle is an obvious choice as the guy who must step up and take command as the closer of the defense. Suggs has had a few seasons where he was most certainly one of the closers, along with Lewis and Reed. However, without his two mentors around this season and despite a productive year, Suggs has yet to consistently “close” games in ’13.
Elvis Dumervil: I’ve included Dumervil on this list mainly because he is getting paid big money and is certainly an elite pass rusher (2nd on the team to Suggs and 9th overall with 8.5 sacks). While the sack production is there, Dumervil hasn’t exactly been closer material. There have been too many bad penalties at crucial junctions to call Dumervil the closer of this team. That doesn’t mean he can’t do it, but he can’t continue to make mental errors that cost the team.
Jimmy Smith: Jimmy Smith is continuing to evolve and grow into the player the Ravens thought they drafted. As teams continue to challenge Smith, let’s hope that growth also includes some big interceptions to go along with his top-end cover skills.
Matt Elam: Matt Elam isn’t Ed Reed, but he was a consistent playmaker at the University of Florida. Elam is a rookie, so I don’t expect to necessarily see this growth in 2013. However, the Ravens will need Elam to become that kind of player in the NFL moving forward.