As the Denver Broncos prepare to take on the Baltimore Ravens in Saturday’s divisional round matchup at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, there seems to be one story dominating the conversation, at least on the national scene. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has announced his retirement at the end of this season and since that announcement, the national media has been tripping over themselves to heap praise on him. Lewis is–or, more accurately, was–a great football player, probably the best linebacker to ever play. However there are two things to consider here and the first one is strictly my opinion, so do with it what you will.
As great as Lewis is on the field, the idea that he is this great human being and we should all fall to his feet when he speaks is sickening. I don’t know what happened at the Super Bowl back in 2000 and Lewis was cleared of all charges, but he has spent the last 12 years rehabilitating his image. For some, maybe a lot of people, he’s done that, but please don’t try to tell me that this guy is one of the all-time great human beings because he’s not. Is he a great player? Yes. Is he a great leader on the field? Yes. Is he a role model I would let my kids look up to? Not in a million years.
Now onto the field itself, where Lewis is not the player he once was. In fact, the Broncos should go right at Lewis all day, he can’t play in space anymore and he can’t cover backs or tight ends. The game plan should include a lot of short routes over the middle to Jacob Tamme, Joel Dressen, Knowshon Moreno and possibly Ronnie Hillman. Lewis had 13 tackles in Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts, but the Ravens defense is set up for the middle linebacker to have a lot of tackles. Brendon Ayanbadejo, the guy that replaced Lewis in the December versus the Broncos, had 11 tackles. The facts are that Lewis is a 37-year-old linebacker playing with one arm and the Broncos should go right at him. Make him play in space because he can’t do it anymore.
At some point, the Ravens are going to have to help Lewis in coverage and that is going to open up opportunities over the top. No one takes advantages of opportunities more than Peyton Manning. Lewis is symbolic of the Ravens defense as a whole: a shell of their former selves. The Colts ran 87 plays and racked up more than 400 yards on Sunday but just could not finish drives. Look for Manning and the Broncos to stay in the no huddle for most of the day and run as many plays as possible. The Ravens will be playing on only five days’ rest, have to travel and will be playing at altitude. If the Broncos play fast like they usually do at home, then Lewis and the Ravens will be gasping for air by the middle of the third quarter.
It’s been a great run for Lewis and the Ravens defense, but it is no longer the dominating unit that we’ve all grown accustomed to. All great players play their last game at some point and Lewis will play his last game on Saturday.
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