The subject of leadership on the Ravens is getting too much attention. Honestly, in my view, way too much.
It dominated the news again this week because of the party bus episode and Ray Lewis' comments about it illustrating a lack of leadership. Oh, yeah? Does Ray really think the party bus wouldn't have been rented if he were still around?
But regardless, the subject has been in heavy circulation for months, with local and national analysts wondering how the Ravens could possibly put one foot in front of the other in 2013 without Ray, Ed Reed, Matt Birk and their other tribal chiefs from a year ago.
It's a serious case of overkill.
Sure, the Ravens miss those guys, but they still have plenty of high-profile veteran leaders such as Joe Flacco, Marshal Yanda and Ray Rice on offense and Terrell Suggs, Lardarius Webb and Haloti Ngata on defense. The coaches and front office haven't lost one minute of sleep about leadership. As Kevin Byrne pointed in Friday’s column on this site, Suggs and Webb have taken up hosting the film study sessions Lewis made famous.
Nonetheless, the subject is still being hotly discussed, not just in Baltimore but in many NFL cities. I have a theory why. Leadership, or lack of it, is one aspect of pro football that fans and media believe they can expertly analyze.
Debating different zone blocking schemes, pass-defense alignments or other down-and-dirty intricacies of the game isn't very interesting, and frankly, we don't have the football bona fides to delve too deeply. But whether certain guys can get other guys fired up, well, that's something we mortals can relate to.
Thus, it receives far more scrutiny and air time than it warrants.
I'm not saying leadership isn't important. Obviously, teams need to have players who set a tone and police the locker room. When there's a void, you can tell.
But as an element of the sport that decides games, leadership ranks behind other factors such as talent, coaching and front-office savvy.
"It's important (but) you've got to just make sure you're talking about the right things, which is game play and things like that, how we are in the locker room during the week," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said this week, seeking to put it in perspective.
The development of the Ravens offense, currently ranked 30th in the league in yards, is going to tell the tale of this season a lot more than the quality of the team's leadership.
The superiority of the Ravens defense, which is showing signs of dominance, will tell the tale more than the team's leadership.
Even before the party bus incident revived the conversation, we were overdue to move on to a new subject … puh-lease.
Too Early To Dismiss Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are 0-3, and the last time that happened, in 2000, the Ravens won the Super Bowl – a clever little coincidence the Ravens would love to see reprised.
But consider this: After losing their first three games in 2000, the Steelers went 9-4 the rest of the year to finish with a winning record.
I bring it up to discourage anyone from summarily dismissing the Steelers in 2013 even though they've looked about as awful as a team can look.
They've turned the ball over repeatedly and yielded all sorts of big plays. They lack offensive playmakers. It's hard to envision them turning things around.
But they still have a strong organization the Ravens have patterned themselves after, one that never panics and sticks to its principles. They also have Ben Roethlisberger, one of the game's best quarterbacks. Yes, he has played pretty poorly so far, but he has been too resilient and clutch in his career to be written off. Ahem, he threw for over 400 yards last week.
It's too soon to dismiss the Steelers.
After last Sunday's Houston game, this Sunday's Buffalo game has all the trapping of, well, a trap game. Coming off an impressive win, the Ravens have to go on the road, where they're a .500 team (8-8) over the past two regular seasons.
But it's a bad matchup fit for the Bills, whose rookie quarterback, EJ Manuel, was sacked eight times last week. The Ravens' pass rush has been strong early this season. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil can be expected to give Manuel a hard time, which could make life difficult for the Bills. Playing at home won't be enough this time: Ravens, 27-13.