When Cowboys fullback Lawrence Vickers, hardly a future Hall of Famer, fired back at Ray Lewis earlier this week, it underscored what has become evident at times this season.
Ray Lewis isn’t necessarily Ray Lewis anymore.
The Ravens middle linebacker is still a good player, but at 37, he isn’t able to change games single-handedly the way he used to, and he isn’t enough to make up for the glaring absence of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
The result is a Ravens defense that has become surprisingly average (or worse). After being ranked third in the league last year, the Ravens have slipped to 24th in total defense, 20th against the run.
That’s shifted the focus to Lewis, and Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun has a lengthy look at his season to date.
“Obviously, Ray is like a quarterback and when things don’t go well, people will point at him,” former Colts coach and current NBC analyst Tony Dungy said. “People are getting up on Ray and blocking him. He’s not the same player he was 10 years ago. When I was coaching, I told the guys, ‘If we don’t block Ray Lewis, he will make every tackle.’
“He had big guys in front of him and he didn’t have to take on a lot of blocks. That’s not his strength. It’s tougher now for him. It’s a young man’s game. It’s hard for me to believe it was 2003 and I was coaching him in the Pro Bowl. Is he the same player now as he was at 27? No, but he still brings a lot to the table. I would be surprised if they don’t get this run defense squared away.”
Dungy wasn’t the only one to note that Lewis didn’t look like the same player these days. Others were less charitable in their observations, especially after the Chiefs ran at will on them last week.
“He’s outmanned at the point of attack,” said retired Ravens offensive lineman Wally Williams, a former teammate. “He’s not as physical. You see a lot of Ray on the ground, on his back. He gets overpowered and stuck to blocks.
“You can’t expect a guy to not lose a couple of steps with all the wear and tear on his body. You’re not accustomed to seeing Ray have so many problems. It’s glaring, it looks really bad.”
It’s far too soon to shovel dirt on Lewis, or to suggest he’s no longer a good player. He’s just not the same player he was, and when the level was so high previously, the drop-off can’t help but be noticeable.