The Ravens are known for their defense. In most every game Baltimore plays—and this goes double when they play the Steelers—color commentators wax about "hard-nosed football" and "defensive mentality" and "slobber-knockers."
But this year the Ravens' defense hasn't been the usual Ravens' defense. For the season, Baltimore ranks 11th in points allowed per game, 26th in yards allowed per game, and Football Outsiders ranks them 17th in DVOA.
Baltimore can blame Terrell Suggs for that, at least in part. Suggs, the Ravens' best pass rusher and the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, tore his Achilles tendon playing basketball in April. He had surgery in May and was expected to miss this season.
And things got worse on Sunday, when the Cowboys came to M&T Bank Stadium, passed for 254 yards and rushed for 227 more. Tackle Haloti Ngata strained his MCL. Starting cornerback Lardarius Webb tore his ACL—he's out for the season. And inside linebacker Ray Lewis—the constant in all the Ravens' great defenses since 1996—tore his triceps and appears out for the season.
But, with Houston awaiting Baltimore on Sunday afternoon, Suggs has been back on the practice field this week. While most players who suffer a torn Achilles take about a year to recover, Suggs said from the beginning that he'd be back this season, and, lo, here he is.
Suggs practiced for the first time on Wednesday and hasn't ruled out playing on Sunday against the Texans. NFL.com's Albert Breer reports that the Ravens would be "shocked" if Suggs was on field in Houston.
It seems crazy for Suggs to return so quickly from an injury which usually sidelines players for entire seasons. But is it really?
According to Lisa Melnick, a physician's assistant at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery, it's not quite reckless. She told me it is typical for patients to resume sports activity in the "five to six month range" after surgery. She said Suggs should be fine as long as he "followed rehab protocol and activity was introduced progessively." But Melnick also said that Suggs runs a higher risk of re-injury. "We know it takes many months for the tendons to become truly strong," she said.
Suggs isn't the only Ravens linebacker pondering a premature return from a devastating blow. The team used its new "designated to return" tag when it placed Lewis on injured reserve. Lewis would be eligible to return on Dec. 12 at the earliest. This is to say nothing of Ed Reed playing through a torn labrum. It's hard-nosed football, indeed. We'll soon find out if it's smart.