Lewis' Advice On How Ravens Win Super Bowl
Can you imagine how future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis was feeling while watching his old team play the New England Patriots in the divisional playoff game?
Well, it was a lot like any normal wildly-extreme, screaming Ravens fanatic.
Lewis freely admits he went crazy cheering on the franchise he led for 17 years.
"I almost lost my mind," Lewis told The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec while promoting his upcoming show "Coaching Bad." "Somebody asked me the other day, who do I cheer for? I don't cheer for nobody. I cheer for one team: the Ravens. And that's forever. I'm forever a Raven. I pick and lose with them and I pick and win with them. That's who I'm picking every week. … I kept saying, 'fourth quarter, fourth quarter, fourth quarter.' I knew it was going to come down to that type of game.
"I was craving. I was like, 'Can you imagine if the Ravens go to the Super Bowl, and I'm going to be in Arizona? It's going to be beautiful.' But of course, there's only one city that's going to get to smile at the end of the day."
Lewis knows the feeling that comes with an early playoff exit. Of all his highly-praised speeches, my favorite was the one he gave after the AFC championship game in 2012 (the Patriots knocked the Ravens out that year, too). He told his teammates that 31 other teams would feel the same way they did, so they should keep their heads up and go make somebody smile.
Lewis was asked whether the 2014 season should be viewed as a disappointment because they didn't win the Super Bowl, or seen as a success because they bounced back from 2013 to make the playoffs and overcame so much adversity.
"At the end of the year, there will only be one city, one champion. That's why you play the game. There's no consolation prizes. Hell no," Lewis said.
"I went my whole career, man, and I had a bunch of good teams. But it's rings. Baltimore, we will not settle for anything less than rings. That's why I left when I left because I left touching a ring. … We can't go backward now. We've tasted it. We're a what, 19-year-old organization and we have two rings up under our belt already."
Lewis thinks the Ravens are in a favorable position to get their third ring in franchise history, saying "I like what we doing" and "where we're headed." (By the way, I love that Lewis still says "we" instead of "they" even though he's retired and an analyst on ESPN now.)
Lewis believes the No. 1 key to winning the Super Bowl is keeping a core group of players together that can develop chemistry.
In the NFL, rosters are constantly changing as players are looking for the next big pay day, and teams are forced to find ways to stay under the salary cap limit. Lewis used the Seattle Seahawks as a "rare example" of a team that has been able to keep their core together because quarterback Russell Wilson is still playing under his team-friendly rookie contract. The Seahawks have been able to afford other key pieces.
"Games can be won by talent, but championships are won by chemistry," Lewis said.
Since Lewis, Ed Reed and a large chunk of the Super Bowl roster has left Baltimore, the front office has moved forward with key players like quarterback Joe Flacco, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, cornerback Jimmy Smith, wide receiver Torrey Smith and guard Marshal Yanda.
Lewis said finding and keeping a positive chemistry in the locker room will propel the Ravens to the next level.
"That's why when I look at my team, they will be a force and they're going to have to get it done real soon before things start to break up," Lewis said.
"You can replace anybody with talent all day, but there's a certain chemistry and a certain leadership that the great teams have. Those are the ones that finish it. We're at a place where we have to find out that one, two core people that are going to be with us that next four, five, six, seven years to build that organization, to get us back to that dance again. Great teams do it together. Great defenses figure it out together. But I'm excited about what the future holds for the Ravens once we figure out what those key pieces are going to be. I think it's going to be exciting."
Ravens Were Just Two Missing Pieces Away From Super Bowl
Lewis' commentary on finding key pieces for a Super Bowl run is a perfect segue into this next section …
Pro Football Focus (PFF) and ESPN teamed up to analyze what pieces the 30 non-Super Bowl teams were missing, and therefore, prevented them from advancing to the big dance.
Want to know what the Ravens were missing?
Baltimore needed just two more “above average” players, and PFF says they would have advanced. The only non-Super Bowl team that had fewer missing pieces was the Dallas Cowboys (zero).
PFF studied past teams in the conference championship games (2007-13) and found that, on average, 40 percent of those rosters were composed of "good" or "elite" players, or in other words, 40 percent of the players have to be "above average." (Note, only players of 250 snaps or more qualify).
Using their rating metrics, PFF found that 36 percent of the players on the Ravens roster were above average, making them two players shy of a championship-caliber team.
Here's the breakdown (only 33 Ravens qualified with 250 snaps):
Kubiak Praises Hire Of Marc Trestman
Sitting in his new head coach office in Denver, Gary Kubiak caught up with The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson to reflect on his year with the Ravens and talk about his replacement,* *Marc Trestman.
This isn't the first time Trestman has taken over a formerly-led Kubiak offense, as he did in 1995 when Trestman joined the San Francisco 49ers.
"I know Marc very well, he followed me in San Francisco and we go way back," Kubiak said. "We became good friends, talked a lot of football. When you come up with the San Francisco 49ers, you're going to learn and run their system. Marc and I both went through that. Marc’s a great fit for the Ravens."
Under Kubiak, Flacco had his best statistical season, setting career-highs with 3,986 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. Trestman has been nicknamed "The Quarterback Whisperer," and Kubiak thinks his former quarterback will do well under Trestman.
"I think Marc will be a really good fit for Joe," Kubiak said. "Marc has a good personality. Joe is a mild-mannered guy, but he's a fiery competitor on the field. I think he and Marc will do very well together."
Kubiak reiterated what a good time he had in Baltimore, saying it was a "blast." And he once again mentioned how grateful he is to the organization for helping him overcome a tough final year in Texas, where he was fired and suffered a mini-stroke.
"When you go through what I went through a year ago, I can really talk to other coaches that go through that," Kubiak said. "It's about getting back on the horse and believing in yourself and I was able to do that at a place with tremendous expectations and a great coaching staff. I couldn't have worked for a better guy than John Harbaugh. He was very positive with me and Rick [Dennison] and supported us. It's like anything else in life.
"You surround yourself with good people. I'm so glad I was able to a part of that. I've been talking a lot with my Ravens buddies and thanking them and letting them know how much I appreciate the opportunity from Ozzie and John."
Harbaugh Is AFC North Coach Of Year
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh was the division's Coach of the Year, says a panel of five AFC North ESPN reporters.
"No AFC North team endured more challenges than the Baltimore Ravens, and no division team advanced further in the playoffs than them," wrote Ravens ESPN reporter Jamison Hensley.
"That's a credit to the leadership of John Harbaugh, who narrowly beat out the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin for AFC North Coach of the Year."
In terms of the voting, Harbaugh received three of the five first-place votes and Tomlin received the other two.
The Ravens finished with a 10-6 record (third in the division) and advanced the furthest in the playoffs, despite several major obstacles. In addition to the Ray Rice scandal, there was the Haloti Ngata suspension and 19 players on injured reserve, including key starters like Jimmy Smith and Dennis Pitta.
Still, Harbaugh kept the team together and focused.
Hensley also praised Harbaugh's aggressive mentality, which showed during bold fourth-down calls.
"Harbaugh is at his best when the Ravens are facing adversity, and he proved that time and time again in 2014," Hensley wrote.
Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Challenges The League
Patriots Owner Robert Kraft made his first public statement yesterday on DeflateGate when his team arrived in Arizona, the site of the Super Bowl.
It was a strong statement, and has many analysts saying that Kraft is reminding NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who he works for.
"I want to make it clear that I believe, unconditionally, that the New England Patriots have done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of NFL rules," Kraft said. "Tom, Bill, and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys, they are part of my family. And Bill, Tom, and I have had many difficult discussions over the years, and I have never known them to lie to me.
"If the Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope that the League would apologize to our entire team and in particular, Coach Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure this past week. I am disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon. We expect hard facts as opposed to circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation."
In terms of the Wells report, Fox Sports' Jay Glazer and Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio are reporting that a locker room attendant was seen on surveillance camera taking 24 footballs (both Patriots and Colts) into a bathroom for 90 seconds.
–ESPN's Scott Van Pelt's bag was stolen at the BWI airport, but security tracked it down in about 20 minutes for him to make his flight. "BWI police do a great job," Van Pelt said. "It was like a CSI in 25 minutes. They figured out who he was and found him and stopped the plane from leaving and got my stuff back. Unbelievable job by them." [The Baltimore Sun]
–C.J. Mosley ended a surprising drought for the Ravens. The team went five drafts without selecting a Pro Bowl player before taking Mosley in 2014. The last Pro Bowl player to be drafted by the Ravens was running back Ray Rice in 2008. "Recent drafts haven't lived up to the Ravens' standard. There are only nine current starters from the 2009 to 2013 drafts," wrote Hensley. "That included the disappointing drafts in 2010, when Sergio Kindle and Terrence Cody were the top picks, and in 2013, when Matt Elam and Arthur Brown were the top selections. The Ravens have been hurt by their own success. A perennial playoff team, the Ravens entered those five drafts (2009 to 2013) selecting No. 25 or lower in the first round. It wasn't until last year, when the Ravens were drafting in the top 20, that they landed an immediate-impact player." [ESPN]
Definitely going to root for my boy #BLafell good luck big Dawg http://t.co/Slr9NbUOO5 pic.twitter.com/GjumACgv1S — Steve Smith Sr.(@89SteveSmith) January 26, 2015