With the Ravens and Broncos set for showdown with a spot in the AFC Championship Game on the line, we take a closer look at Ray Lewis and his effect on the game.
With the impending second collision between the Broncos and Ravens, I wanted to both review the previous matchup and analyze the coming game in Stat Snip format. Now one of the biggest story lines will be Ray Lewis and his final post-season run so I wanted to look at how he's played this season. It should be stated that Lewis does provide leadership and overall knowledge to what's going on prior to the snap, he's the QB of that defense and makes changes that have an affect on the defense in general but since I can't quantify that I'll look at him as a player rather than a leader.
Against the Run
Always been considered Lewis's strong suit due to his physical nature, he has lost a step in recent years. Brian Urlacher may have said last off-season, your mind knows exactly where the play will take place but your body doesn't always let you get there in time. This has held true this season as Lewis hasn't been able to get to the hole and plug it and stop the runner. He is also limited by his speed in terms of getting into the backfield and tackling the back, he only has two tackles for a loss this season, poor for a MLB.
Lewis is still a fairly good run defender, only missing two tackles this season, so he's not going to let you go if he gets close to you. Also this season Lewis hasn't been able to make his tackles close to the line of scrimmage, with only 7.1% of his tackles for a stop (which means the offense doesn't gain a specified amount needed per down to lead to a 1st down) which ranks 42nd in the league.
Overall when you run it away from Ray you should be fine since he's not going to catch you, so hopefully a lot of outside runs, because if you run it at Ray, his slow speed means nothing.
Against the Pass
While never a strong suit for Lewis he did have some success in the past, he does have 31 interceptions for a reason, but as mentioned early that he's lost some speed, means that he's struggled in coverage this season. While he hasn't given up a touchdown this season he has hardly been inspired in his play. He allows a reception once every 11 snaps in coverage but he allows QB's to complete 70.0% of their passes when targeting him. When QB's target him they have an average passer rating of 98.6.
Overall Lewis just isn't able to keep up with running backs and tight ends who have the speed advantage and to compensate the Ravens usually use him in zone coverage rather than man so he doesn't have to chase his man around the field.
Luckily the Broncos have the speed and talent at TE and RB to attack Lewis. With three TE's who are talented receivers in Joel Dreessen, Jacob Tamme and the rising Virgil Green, expect the Broncos to continue their trend of using TE's on 3rd down and in the red zone (especially Dreessen who has 5 touchdown receptions). The same goes with Moreno, who is a talented receiver both in the flat and up the middle.
As a Pass Rusher
Lewis has never been a big pass rusher, never topped 5 sacks in a season and while he has been solid in the past he's taken himself out of that aspect of that game. He spends just above 10% of his snaps rushing the passer and even on the rare occasion he does attack the QB he only generates pressure on 7.1% of his pass rushing snaps, so he's not very effective. As long as the Broncos make sure to not get caught off guard by Lewis then they should have no trouble shutting him down, especially with Peyton Manning's lightning release.
Lewis is among the greatest linebackers of all time and surefire Hall of Famer, but he is a shadow of himself. As I said at the beginning, this is purely his impact as a player, this isn't a study of his leadership which does have a positive impact on the game. But as a whole, Lewis won't have a big impact for the Ravens, at least not in a positive way.