But Lewis’ impact goes beyond inspirational pregame speeches.
What about the difference he has made from a football perspective?
“The football impact probably is always the most important thing,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “Ray has played well – that’s the most important thing.”
The Ravens have been a different team with Lewis on the field this year. The team was 5-5 without him and is 7-1 with him. In Lewis’ two playoff games, he has an NFL-leading 30 tackles, including two tackles for loss and one pass defensed.
Pundits have argued that Lewis isn’t the same player he was earlier in his career, and that he doesn’t have the same sideline-to-sideline speed that made him so dangerous.
But Harbaugh feels Lewis is still one of the game’s top linebackers even at this late stage of his career.
“He can still play,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been playing at a high level for 17 years. He’s a top linebacker in the game right now, at this very moment, so he’s made a difference for us.”
According to the statistical analysis service Pro Football Focus, Lewis’ biggest contribution has been in the run defense.
In last week’s game against the Broncos, Lewis graded out as the Ravens’ top run defender in 44 plays against the run. However, Lewis was the lowest-rated defender in 45 plays in pass coverage.
When Lewis was asked Wednesday about his play this postseason, he wasn’t interested in discussing his individual performance and instead pointed to the overall play of the defense.
“I love the game of football anytime my defense is playing well,” Lewis said. “Anybody who has been around me long enough knows that I am the last person to talk about myself. My No. 1 job is to put my defense in position to win.”
Another component of Lewis’ game to take into account is the cerebral aspect.
As a veteran who is known for the work he puts into the film study and mental preparation, Lewis makes the calls at the line of scrimmage and is responsible for adjusting the plays based on the movements of the offense.
That role was critical last week against Peyton Manning and will be again Sunday against Tom Brady, who like Manning is possibly the NFL’s best at navigating the chess match that takes place at the line of scrimmage.
“Ray is an instinctive player, always has been,” Patriots Head Coach Belichick said. “He certainly controls the defense in terms of checks and adjustments, that kind of thing. He certainly adds a lot. I’m sure that they’re glad that he’s back in there for a variety of reasons: his plays, leadership, being able to quarterback the defense and certainly the front.”
Brady had similar praise for Lewis.
“He’s so instinctive,” Brady said. “He doesn’t give up hardly any plays, make a ton of tackles. He’s great in the pass game, great in the run game. He blitzes well, like he did a few years ago. He’s really a playmaker for them, so they give him an opportunity to make those plays. You see when he makes a play, their whole sideline gets really amped up.
“You always have to know where [number] 52 is at. He’s always right in the middle of the defense but whether he’s blitzing or covering or he’s free in the middle of the field, you always have to take him into account."