Ray Lewis, Ed Reed have plenty left to offer Ravens

Ravens should save defensive changes for the offseason

January 03, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

You know the old saying about rocking the boat? The Ravens do, too. Which is why there is absolutely zero chance they'll address the declining productivity of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed anytime soon.

That's an issue for the off-season, not for a team with its sights set on the Super Bowl. It's too explosive. That wouldn't be just rocking the boat. That would be lobbing a stick of dynamite in the boat, too.

So I disagree with my buddy Mike Preston, who wrote Tuesday that the time has come for John Harbaugh to talk to his two future Hall of Famers about their diminished play and what the team should do about it.

Has Ray Lewis, the greatest inside linebacker to ever play the game, lost a step or two? Absolutely. Is he a liability dropping into coverage? Probably.

Hey, the man is in his 16th season in the NFL. His body is giving out on him. It happens. Even to the great ones.

Is Ed Reed, the eight-time Pro Bowl safety, playing like a shadow of himself this season? Also true. He's not making the big plays. And he seems to be shying away from tackles for fear of ending up in a wheelchair from another serious neck or back injury.

Exhibit A was his whiff on the Bengals' Bernard Scott in the Ravens win over Cincinnati Sunday. Reed looked bad coming up with nothing but air on Scott's 25-yard touchdown run. And he didn't try to deny it in a post-game interview.

But overall, both no. 52 and no. 20 are still playing at a high enough level to help the Ravens – especially Lewis. And the intangibles they provide -- experience, leadership, motivation, I could go on – are too valuable to do without now.

No, with the Ravens focused on the playoffs, this is no time to start messing with team chemistry. It's no time to tick off the team's two biggest leaders by sitting them down and talking about reduced roles in the future.

Do that now and you risk upsetting the whole team.

Again, if you're John Harbaugh or Ozzie Newsome, you have that talk in the off-season.

Or maybe, if the Ravens win it all this season, you don't need to have that talk at all.

Maybe Ray Lewis wins another Super Bowl ring and decides to retire so they can start working on his bust for Canton.

Maybe Ed Reed kisses the Lombardi trophy and thinks: "You know what? I'm risking too much by playing with this neck and back." And maybe he calls it quits, too.

Who knows how things will play out over the next few weeks?

But right now, Harbaugh wants no part of any conversation about his two superstars that could potentially roil his team. And I don't blame him.

When it was suggested at his Monday press conference that Reed didn't seem to be the same player the last couple of weeks in terms of his tackling, Harbaugh launched into an impassioned defense of his embattled safety.

"That's a better question for Ed," he said. "I've got a lot of confidence in Ed Reed and I'm sure everybody else does. I guarantee that the people who are playing against him, they know where he is back there. Our coverage in our secondary (Sunday) was excellent. That starts with Ed Reed. Ed covered up a couple of things that happened on some of those play-action downfield routes and covered some of those guys downfield one-on-one.

"(It's) a pretty tough task for a safety to do that. So, believe me, Ed reed is carrying more than his weight. As far as what you're talking about, he'll address that. He's been around. He knows how to play and he'll take care of that."

Translation: I'm not touching that with a 10-foot pole.

Again, I don't blame him.

Here's another thing: what good is talking about reduced roles for Lewis and Reed now when you really don't have anyone to replace them?

The Ravens came out of that Bengals game banged up. Inside linebacker Jameel McClain has a sprained ankle and might not practice this week. Reserve linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has a concussion. Linebacker and special teams ace Brendan Ayanbadejo has a quadriceps sprain.

It's the same thing with the safeties. Bernard Pollard has a wrist sprain and elbow contusion. And Tom Zbikowski has a concussion.

Not that anyone's taking over for Ray Lewis or Ed Reed in the next few weeks, anyway. They've earned the right to be out there.

And now's not the time to talk about their future.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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