Conflicting Opinions On Lewis' Nearing Return
Conflicting opinions are arising from the latest Ray Lewis news.
Under NFL rules, the legendary linebacker is eligible to practice Thursday, and Head Coach John Harbaugh said he thinks Lewis will return to game action sometime next month before the end of the regular season.
But with the defense rebounding from poor early-season play, some are wondering whether Lewis should rush back and if his presence will help or hurt the ascending unit.
Here are the facts:
Lewis is a future Hall of Famer and his leadership on the field is unmatched.
The Ravens notched a 4-0 record when they lost Lewis last year with a toe injury, and they are 4-1 since he was knocked out of the Week 6 matchup versus the Dallas Cowboys with a torn triceps muscle. During the last four games, the defense has given up the fewest points per game (14.5) in the NFL.
With Lewis this season, the Ravens went 5-1 and the defense allowed 19.6 points per game and 396.6 yards per game. Without Lewis this season, the defense has given up 20.2 points per game and 344.6 total yards.
And now, here are the conflicting opinions:
A Lewis Return Means Good Things
Lewis will only make Ravens better (Brad Jackson, CSNBaltimore.com): "If he's healthy to go, obviously you're talking about one of the greatest players in National Football League history. This is a guy right now that means so much to the franchise, the city and this organization. Having him on your team can only make you better. If he is healthy and if it's not going to jeopardize the future of his playing career – however long he decides to take that career out – an opportunity to get No. 52 out on the field, it bodes well for the Baltimore Ravens and bad for opposing teams."
Ravens would be getting an early Christmas present if Lewis returned soon (Kevin Cowherd, The Baltimore Sun): "[T]he Ravens have to be thrilled to hear Lewis could be back soon. His pre-game speech to the team before Sunday's game – heavy on hope, faith and love, John Harbaugh said – was thought by some to rank with his all-time best. But nothing beats having No. 52 on the field – even if, physically, he's not the player he once was. As the Ravens head into the playoffs, they'll take any version of Ray Lewis they can get – every time."
Just Don't Rush It
Take it slow and consider modifying Lewis' role (Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun): "It's hard to argue with the results over the past six weeks, but Lewis is still the unquestioned leader of the team and his presence on the field is an integral part of the Ravens identity. When he comes back, however, it may be time for the coaching staff to consider subtly modifying his role to keep him healthy and create the most effective chemistry with [Jameel] McClain, [Dannell] Ellerbe and the rest of the linebacking corps. That's a sensitive subject and any attempt to limit Lewis's playing time will likely meet with resistance, but this would seem like the logical time to broach the subject. The Ravens have won in spite of themselves at times this season, but the defense seems to be coming together at just the right time to assist in another promising playoff run. It'll be great if Lewis comes back to be a big part of that, but it would not be in his best interests or that of the team for him to come back too soon."
Ellerbe's injury status may be more important than Lewis' this week (Jamison Hensley, ESPN): "[D]o the Ravens really need Lewis to rush back? The play of the Ravens' defense says no. … The Ravens have adjusted to life without Lewis, moving Jameel McClain to Lewis' spot and putting Dannell Ellerbe in the starting lineup. Ellerbe has been one of the Ravens' most consistent defenders this year. But Ellerbe left the Chargers game with an ankle injury and didn't return. … Based on how the defense has been playing lately, Ellerbe's status may be more important than Lewis' this week."
Wary Of A Lewis Return
Lewis' return will have little impact (Ron Jaworski, ESPN): "Very little [impact]. I don't believe Ray Lewis is playing to the standard he had set for himself prior to the injury. Yes, he's a good football player, he's a great leader, he's a future Hall of Famer, but when you watch Ray Lewis on tape, he does not make the plays he used to make. Father Time catches up to everyone. Certainly having Ray Lewis on the sideline, on the field, lining you up, getting your defense in position to make plays, he's phenomenal. But, the skillset is not what it used to be."
Bringing back Lewis could be a mistake (Merril Hoge, ESPN): "[T]his defense has kind of worked through not having him anymore. They are playing much better against the run. Their pressures are better. Now, will he go on the football field the second he can go? Absolutely. But could it be a mistake because they are playing much better defense now?. They struggled there for a while, and they've gotten back … it could be [a mistake] because, to Jaws' point, he's not the same player. He's a Hall of Fame player, but right now his skillset has eroded and people are attacking him."
Ellerbe Injury Update, Ayanbadejo Filled In Nicely
As Hensely noted above, "Ellerbe's status may be more important than Lewis' this week."
Thus, here's the update: Ellerbe sustained a foot/ankle injury in the first half of the win over the Chargers and never returned, but Harbaugh said last night it isn't considered serious.
While Ellerbe isn't expected to practice much this week, Harbaugh was optimistic he could play Sunday for Round II of Ravens-Steelers.
The silver lining is that if Ellerbe can't go this week, special teams ace and linebacker Brendon Ayandbedejo played well in relief of Ellerbe in San Diego. He finished with five tackles, and was key in making late-game stops and holding the Chargers to three points in the second half and overtime.
He made an open-field tackle on tight end Antonio Gates in overtime, and also helped break up a pass on third-and-3 on San Diego's second overtime possession. It ultimately led to getting the ball back to the Ravens offense for the game-winning drive.
"[H]e did well on pass coverage, something that's not surprising due to his quickness, speed and athleticism," wrote CSNBaltimore.com's Jeff Seidel. "He's very valuable to the Ravens on special teams, but Ayanbadejo's help on defense at various times can't be ignored."
Roethlisberger 'Going To Try' To Play vs. Ravens
After watching his team commit eight turnovers in a losing effort to the Cleveland Browns, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is feeling antsy and wants back on the field.
He wants out there sooner than later.
"I'm going to try," Roethlisberger said of playing the Ravens Sunday, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's killing me to watch."
A Steelers loss Sunday would erase their hopes of winning the AFC North and would also send the team to .500. ESPN reported that doctors determined his rib has healed enough that it won't risk further damage, so there is a possibility he could return.
SI.com's Peter King wrote that he "can't see [Ben] playing" Sunday, but running back Ray Rice isn't so sure.
"I don't know what kind of medicine the Steelers will put Ben Roethlisberger on this week, but they're going to give him something," Rice told King.
Rice Delivers Play Of 2012 Season
People are still talking about Rice's Herculean effort in converting a 4th-and-29 with less than two minutes remaining against the Chargers Sunday.
Hensley declared it the "play of the 2012 season" because it had "everything you want: difficulty, drama and determination."
The Baltimore Sun's Matt Vensel says he can envision himself reminiscing about the game-saving, catch-and-run for a long, long time.
"It's a wonderful thought as much as it is a scary one, but someday, I will be chatting with a son or a granddaughter or some kind of small, curious child with a sizable chunk of my DNA, and they might ask me what it was like to watch Rice play football," Vensel wrote. "That play Sunday will be among the ones that come to mind."
Go ahead, watch it again. You know you want to.
But this time, listen to Qadry Ismail break down the film of the play to better showcase just how truly spectacular it was.
- @pmgleason [Ravens PR]: [Sunday] @AnquanBoldin became the 4th player in NFL history to begin a career w/ 10-straight seasons of 50-or-more catches. [Twitter]
- @untouchablejay4 [Suggs]: Ya boy sizzle about to rip skip Brainless again! [Twitter]
- King named Ravens rookie kicker Justin Tucker his special teams player of the week: "Big deal. A 38-yard field goal. Or two. Well, I say it is a big deal. The Ravens trailed 13-10 in San Diego with four seconds left when Tucker, the rookie free agent from the University of Texas, came on and kicked a 38-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. Then, with 67 seconds left in overtime, he trotted out for another 38-yarder. Drilled the game-winner too. No doubt about either one, both straight down Broadway. The Ravens, who will be playing in January, look to have a playoff-caliber kicker they won't have to worry about in the big spots." [SportsIllustrated.com]