Maybe it’s because I grew up watching his entire career. Maybe it’s because I drive by his billboard every time I come into Baltimore on I-95 North. Maybe it’s because he’s been the most influential player in Ravens history and one of the most influential athletes ever to play in Baltimore.
Whether or not I’m blinded by “homerism,” I firmly believe that whenever Ray Lewis comes back from his triceps injury he will make the Baltimore Ravens a better football team. And believe it or not, there is some rationale behind that stance.
I know the stats are out there showing that the Ravens have been winning without him, posting a combined 8-1 record in the last two seasons during the games he missed. I know, especially this year, Baltimore’s defense has really improved since the beginning of the season, when Lewis was active.
It would be foolish, however, to think that the Ravens’ improvement in play is due to the fact the Lewis is on the sideline.
The week after Lewis got injured, Terrell Suggs returned to the field, which helped the defense immensely. In the five games that Suggs has played, the Ravens have notched 15 sacks, which is an average of three per game. In the six games prior, the defense only sacked the quarterback 10 times, giving them an average of under two per game.
Suggs' return is the biggest reason the defense has improved and the team continues to win. He creates pressure and frees up other rushers—evidenced by defensive lineman Arthur Jones’ first two career sacks against the Chargers last week—which in turn helps the secondary. There was much more grumbling about the play of Carey Williams before Suggs’ return than after, and even without Lardarius Webb, the secondary has improved its play overall.
Ray Lewis returning to this improved defense will not hinder the progress that has been made without him. He obviously is not the player he once was, but he is still very good and productive when healthy. According to ESPN statistics, he was in the top five in tackles when he got hurt.
And, above all, his leadership and the respect from his teammates cannot be understated.
I played safety in college and overseas, and there were always coaches and guys on the sideline whom I didn’t want to let down. But when there was somebody on the field with me whom I greatly respected and looked up to, it was a whole different feeling and sense of urgency to perform.
There were a few teammates throughout my playing career that I admired and deferred to in most situations. I wanted to work out with those guys, watch film with them and be around them in practice and drills to make sure I was working correctly. When it was game time and we walked out on defense together, I wanted to make plays for them specifically, as much as I did for my team.
That’s how Ray Lewis is viewed by his teammates and numerous players throughout the NFL. He is still an effective leader in the locker room and on the sideline when he can’t play. The way that he makes his teammates better when he is on the field is something that can’t be quantified, and quite frankly, it trumps any stat you’ll find regarding his performance.
He is the ultimate alpha who demands that you to get to his level when you play alongside him. For that reason it is silly to entertain that the Ravens may be better without him. Whether or not the stats or record show it, the Ravens do miss Ray Lewis and are anxiously awaiting his return.