Ray Lewis: Nobody Wants to Face This Ravens Defense in the Playoffs
If he's being honest, Ray Lewis believes the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers on are on a collision course for a rematch in the AFC championship.
Based on how they've played all year, it's hard to argue otherwise.
That said, the future Ravens Hall of Fame linebacker sees a 2017 defensive unit that epitomizes what Ravens history is all about – a history that he helped build. In part, it's a history of making opponents fear the Ravens defense could wreck their playoff hopes.
"They can be as great as they want to be, and I honestly think they have a chance to be fantastic," Lewis told the Associated Press. "I'll say this much: This is the one defense – and I don't care who you are – that you do not want to face in the playoffs."
Lewis was the centerpiece of many historic Ravens defenses, including the 2000 unit that helped the franchise capture its first Super Bowl while setting an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a single season.
While it's still too early to measure where this year's defense will stand in Ravens lore, Lewis believes it ranks right up there with the best of them. And he sees similarities to the historic 2000 unit in terms of how it was built with a combination of ascending draft picks and savvy free-agent moves. He also sees how the defense is carrying the team to victories.
"Same thing that we had," Lewis said. "You never hear about guys being mad because the offense isn't doing anything. No. They win games together, they lose games together, and that's the Ravens way. It's always been our way.
"I used to say this when I was playing: You can compare us to whoever you want to, but we are who we are. Same thing with the 2017 Ravens. There are so many different pieces. There are guys coming from different teams, just like we had Rod Woodson and Sam Adams and Michael McCrary."
Baltimore (6-5) finds itself in playoff position, and a big reason for that is the opportunistic defense. It leads the NFL with 18 interceptions and 26 takeaways. The Ravens have three shutouts this season, the first time that's happened in Baltimore since Lewis' defense did it four times in 2000.
Lewis has been keeping a close eye on his former team this season, and he gets immense joy while watching.
"It 100 percent does not get any better than watching these guys play defense," he said.
"Look, let's just give credit to Dean Pees and what he's been doing with defenses for ages. When you see this defense play, they are aggressive, they are physical and they are telling people, `We can absolutely beat you up.' That's always been our simple motto: You want to come in and act cute? We're coming in to punch you in the mouth. And that's what the Ravens are doing."
Remember when outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said he could hear Lewis' voice in his head during the fourth quarter of Monday night's 23-16 win over the Houston Texans (see video to the right)?
Suggs said he heard Lewis say, just like he did so many times when they were teammates together, "Suggs, go get the ball." Suggs then notched a pivotal sack-strip on Texans quarterback Tom Savage that halted Houston's comeback attempt.
Well, Lewis was watching the game from home, and he was literally yelling at Suggs to do just that.
"Before he did it, I said, `Sizzle, I need a play. I need a sack-caused fumble right now,'"* *Lewis said. "You know what? A lot of the great defenses I was on, Terrell Suggs was there. When you think about it, he came in as a young kid, getting experience playing with me and Ed Reed. Now guess what? He's that guy.
"The same focus, the same leadership that starts with Terrell Suggs starts to trickle down. When you bring in veterans like Eric Weddle, and the knowledge of a C.J. Mosley and combine all of those things with the athletic ability they all have, what you get is a tremendous defense."
Last week, Lewis made the 2018 Hall of Fame semifinalist list. He's expected to be a slam dunk as a first-ballot finalist in February. It will be a historic moment for Lewis and the Ravens franchise.
And for him, five years after retirement, it doesn't get any better than watching the organization return to a formula he helped build during his 17-year Hall of Fame campaign.
"The point is, these guys are playing with a chip on their shoulder," he said. "If you're loose with the ball, they're going to make you pay for it. That's Ravens history, that's Ravens defense, and that's why I appreciate on every level watching these guys play."
It'd be 'Foolish' to Move on From Breshad Perriman Now
Breshad Perriman might be struggling, but there is absolutely no reason for the Ravens to cut him. One deactivation in an effort to get him going is a far cry from moving on from him altogether.
"Let's get one thing out of the way: It would be foolish for the Ravens to move on from him now, the way many frustrated fans are suggesting," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "There's nothing to be gained from that."
Zrebiec said it might be a different story if the Ravens had a plethora of young receivers waiting in the wings for their shot. He added that Perriman may continue having a hard time getting on the field and seeing a lot of targets this season because he seems to be lacking confidence and the team has little margin for error in the playoff race.
For now, quarterback Joe Flacco should focus on getting the ball in the hands of more trusted and reliable receivers like Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin, says Zrebiec. But in the long run …
"Regardless of how this season ends, the Ravens figure to decline Perriman's fifth-year option for 2019 this offseason," Zrebiec wrote. "He'll then come to training camp next summer needing to earn a spot on the 53-man roster through his performance and availability. All of that makes perfect sense. What doesn't is not waiting to see whether the 2015 first-round draft pick benefits from a possible healthy offseason and comes back as a more prepared and confident player next summer."
Meanwhile, Zrebiec says those Ravens fans who were clamoring for General Manager Ozzie Newsome to move up in the 2017 NFL Draft to select one of the top-three receivers may want to count their blessing that he didn't.
That's because Western Michigan's Corey Davis (Tennessee Titans), Clemson's Mike Williams (San Diego Chargers) and Washington's John Ross (Cincinnati Bengals) haven't done much in their rookie seasons. Of course, it's too early to judge their careers, but they're not off to great starts.
"[J]ust imagine the uproar if the Ravens had traded up in the first round to draft a wide receiver," he wrote.
The No. 5 overall pick, Davis, has just 20 catches for 215 yards while missing five games with a hamstring injury. Williams, the seventh overall pick, has missed five games with a knee injury and has only notched nine catches for 84 yards. And then the ninth pick, Ross, still hasn't made a catch. He's been a healthy scratch three times this season.
"Obviously, all three might turn out to be very good players, but it's a reminder that receivers who come in and immediately make an impact, like Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones and A.J. Green, don't come around every year," wrote Zrebiec.
Matt Elam Cleared to Play and Looking for a Team
Ravens 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam is looking for a career comeback.
After being suspended by the league for six games in October, Elam tweeted that he's been cleared to play and he's hoping somebody will consider him for their roster.
It wasn't clear why Elam was suspended, but it followed two arrests during the offseason. The Ravens announced they wouldn't bring Elam back after the first arrest in February.
Elam says he now has a "clear mind and heart," and we hope the best for him. It'd be great to see Elam turn his story around and finish things on a high note, and former teammate Eric Weddle is clearly pulling for him.
Michael Campanaro Says It's on Him to Avoid Another Healthy Scratch
Now that the Ravens are healthier these days, gameday activation decisions are more difficult.
Two weeks ago, the Ravens surprisingly deactivated Perriman for the Green Bay Packers game. And on Monday night, they chose to make Michael Campanaro a healthy scratch.
Campanaro admitted he was frustrated by the decision, but in the end, he knows it's up to him to prove the Ravens can't play without him.
"I've just got to go out there and play better," Campanaro told The Sun's Edward Lee Wednesday. "I just have to practice and show that I can be valuable to the team and be productive to the team more than, I guess, guys ahead of me. That's all I can do, and the rest will take care of itself.
"You've just got to control the things that you can control. I'm just going to prepare like I always do and be ready. There are certain things that are just out of my control because there are a lot of different things that go into them. But when my number is called, I'll be ready."
Despite not playing Monday, Campanaro leads the AFC in punt-return average with 14.7 yards. Lee pointed out that he also has five more catches and 37 more yards than Perriman.
But Zrebiec says it's a false assumption to think the Ravens' decision will come down each week between Perriman and Campanaro. Both can be active (or inactive) at the same time in any given game.
"I doubt that's the way team officials are looking at it going forward, and it's a mistake if they are taking that approach," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens could always hold out one of their four tight ends or keep one of the reserve linebackers on the sideline. They also are routinely dressing nine defensive backs, so they probably could get away with having one fewer there. The final few spots on game day usually are earmarked for special teams, rather than certain positions, anyway.
"But any way you break it down, there are other options beyond leaving your best punt returner on the sideline in sweats. With the offense struggling and the increasingly cold weather making field position an even bigger factor, you'd think the Ravens would want to have Campanaro out there going forward."