I can't think of a less surprising comment than Ray Lewis telling an FS1 interviewer "you need a burning fire behind you" when you play football.
That's how Lewis approached the job during his brilliant career with the Ravens, and he was demonstrative about exhibiting his passion. He might be the most famously demonstrative character in NFL history. "Saturday Night Live" lampooned him for it, but it worked for him, fired him up to play linebacker as well as anyone who ever suited up.
Joe Flacco approaches the job differently. The Ravens' veteran quarterback is a stoic competitor.
He was that way as a rookie in 2008. He was that way in 2012 when he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory with one of the greatest individual postseason performances in history. He's the same way now. In an excellent podcast interview with my colleagues Ryan Mink and Garrett Downing earlier this week, he said he believes demonstrative sideline behavior is "just for show." That's also not a surprising comment. That's just who Flacco is.
As you probably heard, Lewis called out his former teammate in that FS1 interview Thursday, saying he had "never seen" Flacco exhibit passion for football. The inflammatory remark is going to get a lot of attention, but honestly, it's just the latest indication of something we already know: Lewis and Flacco have different personalities and different approaches to football.
Lewis can say whatever he wants. Goodness knows he does. He once said he didn't think the power outage at the New Orleans Super Bowl was an accident, attributing it to some vague conspiracy – a claim about as likely as the stories Pinocchio told that made his nose grow.
It would be nice if he had a nuanced view and understood that a passion for the game can be exhibited overtly or quietly, but in the absence of that understanding, a few things need to be stated:
Yes, the NFL has plenty of demonstrative guys like Lewis who draw cameras and generate headlines. But there are more guys like Flacco, a lot more, who grind away day after day without calling attention to their desire or innate competitiveness. It doesn't mean they lack passion or don't care. Honestly, the suggestion is unfair and ridiculous.
Marshal Yanda, arguably the Ravens' best player, an All-Pro guard, grinds away fiercely day after day, but he does it stoically, without waving his arms or jumping around.
I'd like to see someone go up to Yanda and suggest that he lacks passion for football. That would go well.
Johnny Unitas was a stoic competitor. Let me repeat that: Johnny Unitas, the Baltimore legend, was about as effusive during games as the statue of him in front of M&T Bank Stadium. Did anyone think he lacked passion or a competitive fire?
I'm sure some fans will greet Lewis' comments with a fist pump, believing it was time for someone to "tell it like it is." Flacco is always a controversial subject, and he has experienced some tough times this season, making him an easy target for criticism.
But those tough times have been the result of physical and mental mistakes, not a lack of passion.
Advice For Ravens Offense And How To Attack Cowboys
OK, on to Sunday's game in Dallas ...
It's no secret the Ravens have been searching for an offensive approach that works for them in 2016.
They started out having Flacco fling the ball all over the place, not necessarily by design. The pass-happy approach got Marc Trestman fired as offensive coordinator.
After Marty Mornhinweg became the OC, they sought to re-establish the run and establish a long passing game. That worked intermittently better, but general inconsistencies persisted and the offense continued to struggle to reach the end zone.
When the Ravens found themselves without a touchdown and trailing the winless Cleveland Browns late in the second quarter of their most recent game, Mornhinweg decided to try increasing the tempo, going without a huddle. The offense responded with three touchdowns in the second half of what became a 28-7 win.
The coaches aren't asking for my advice, but I'd certainly advise them to continue to use the no-huddle approach Sunday against the Cowboys.
I know, the fact that it worked against the woeful Browns doesn't guarantee it will work again. But Flacco likes the no-huddle, having stated several times that he's comfortable with the faster tempo. It does seem the likeliest avenue for finding that pop-pop-pop rhythm that has eluded the offense for long stretches.
I'm not suggesting they go strictly no-huddle. The goal is to confuse the defense with different sets and strategies – use an assortment of pitches, to use a baseball term. And the key to success for this offense is a relatively balanced run-pass ratio. The running game needs attention.
But you can run out of the no huddle, as the Ravens did against the Browns with nice results.
Naturally, Mornhinweg didn't tip his hand when asked in his weekly press conference whether he'd keep using the no-huddle.
"Every game is different. We'll see," he said.
It's certainly true that every matchup offers different opportunities. The Cowboys defense has been strong against the run, achieving a No. 3 league ranking, and generally has played better than anticipated. But they're No. 21 in pass defense and averaging a modest two sacks per game. Sounds like the place to attack.