Ravens defense will roll on after Lewis retires

Ray Lewis' status for Sunday's game against the Colts listed as questionable - he could sit out his fourth consecutive game with a toe injury. In his absence these last few weeks, we've gotten a brief glimpse of what life might be like for the Ravens without the man who built the franchise. As with all good things, one day Lewis' tenure in the NFL will end. For so long, fans have wondered, "What happens then?"

For many, it's hard to imagine life without the soul of Charm City. For 16 seasons, Lewis has been the warrior who inspired some of the most vicious defensive units in NFL history. After this small stretch of games without him, one thing is for sure: Life will go when he's retired.

The Ravens defense hasn't missed a beat, and that's an enormous compliment to Lewis .

Clearly, the culture Lewis has established in Baltimore will transcend beyond his playing days. The message he has preached to dozens of rookie draft picks has taken hold. Relentless play has now become the standard for Ravens defenses.

During media interviews, Lewis talks about determining your own legacy. There's no question his is securely set.

Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Lardarius Webb are the next generation -well-trained by their battled-tested general. While Lewis is the Ravens' emotional leader, we've learned during his absence that there's no shortage of emotion from those who've learned from him.

A quick crunch of the numbers shows the Ravens' defense has stepped up without Lewis. Through the first nine games of the season, Lewis was on the field. When compared to the defensive stats over the last three games, where he was injured, the numbers are somewhat better.

That doesn't mean there's a direct correlation, clearly the Ravens are a better team with Lewis on the field. However, the numbers show the defense is just as scary without him.

Take a look at the numbers:

From Weeks 1-10, the Ravens' defense gave up 16.9 points/game and 284.6 yards/game. They averaged three sacks/game, 1.9 fumble recoveries/game and .89 interceptions/game. From Weeks 11-13, the Ravens' defense gave up 13.3 points/game and 295.3 yards/game. They averaged 4.7 sacks/game, one fumble recovery/game and 1.7 interceptions/game.

The numbers are better for Weeks 11-13 in every category except yards per game and fumble recoveries. Both are very close.

Remember, you also have to consider the smaller sample size in the three games without Lewis versus the nine games with him.

We've seen more game-changing, big defensive plays in recent weeks. That could be because the entire team is playing at a higher level or guys like Suggs, Webb and even rookie Jimmy Smith feel as if they need to step up with Lewis out. Maybe they feel like they finally can because subconsciously with Lewis off the field there's room for another star to be born.

Either way, this is good news for the future of the Ravens. The blueprint is in place for years to come and the personnel is talented enough to carry on the legacy set by Lewis long after he's in the Hall of Fame.