Ravens' success is about more than the 'Ray Lewis Effect'

Retirement storyline is catchy, but Flacco, Rice and offensive line have made a big difference in playoff run, too

January 15, 2013|Peter Schmuck

It's probably fair to say that the football world is under the impression that the Ravens are riding high in the postseason because of the "Ray Lewis Effect," which has taken the team to a higher emotional plane and propelled it past the upstart Indianapolis Colts and heavily favored Denver Broncos.

That's just fine, of course. There's nothing like a big, over-generalized storyline to juice up a national pregame show, and there's really no good reason to fight the almost universal perception that Lewis is the spiritual force behind the postseason surge that has carried the Ravens into another AFC title showdown against the New England Patriots.

"Probably, sure, it's a big deal,'' John Harbaugh said during his weekly news conference on Monday. "All of our players have something on the line. It's always an ending. There is always something around the horizon for every one of us. It's not going to be like it was last year or last week. And, for Ray, it's the most evident part of it. It's right out there in front for everybody to see. Ray has been the franchise since '96. He's been the one stable element that has been here from the beginning.

"So, it's pretty evident and pretty obvious, and we are all real proud of that, and we're all excited to be a part of that."

Fair enough. Who didn't get a little misty when Lewis dropped to his knees in a huge release of emotion near the Ravens sideline after Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal split the uprights on Saturday at Sports Authority Field? That's just SportsCenter gold.

What is not fair is to get so caught up in Lewis and his final NFL journey that you don't recognize what really happened over the past couple of weeks. The Ravens didn't beat the Colts because their inspiring human interest subplots overwhelmed Chuck Pagano's heart-warming return from a life-threatening illness. They didn't make that miracle comeback in the final minute of regulation on Saturday because the players were thinking during those waning seconds that they had to do something otherworldly to keep Ray on the road to the Super Bowl.

Lewis and the Ravens defense played a big role, so there's no denying his return has been a signficant factor on a couple of levels, but it should be fairly obvious that the main reason the Ravens have come on so strong in the postseason is what has happened on the other side of the ball.

They won those two playoff games, in large part, because Joe Flacco stepped up on the big stage with more than 600 yards passing, five touchdowns and no interceptions. They won because they delivered a pair of balanced offensive performances in which Ray Rice averaged 100 yards and all the frontline receivers made big plays throughout.

Most of all, they won because of the common demoninator in all of that offensive largesse — the newly revamped offensive line that kept Flacco unsacked for the first 63 minutes of the overtime victory over the Broncos.

Count 'em. Flacco has been sacked just twice in the nine-plus quarters the Ravens have played in the postseason, and the overtime sack by Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil on Saturday was really just a coverage sack. Rice and complementary running back Bernard Pierce, meanwhile, have combined to rush for 316 yards in the two playoff games.

"I think every game starts up front and comes down to who can control the line of scrimmage," said All-Pro guard Marshall Yanda, "and controlling those guys gives Joe time to open up the running game and keep a good balance. It's a huge factor every game, so we try to do that. We had success a couple days ago and it'll be huge this weekend."

The O-line has come together at just the right time after the coaching staff moved decisively to reposition several players, inserting Bryant McKinnie in at left tackle, shifting Michael Oher to the right side and switching Kelechi Osemele from right tackle to left guard.

It's still possible to figure the "Ray Lewis Effect" into this equation, considering McKinnie has credited Lewis with helping him get in shape to return to the starting lineup. It's just important to remember that — in the NFL — it takes 22 to tango.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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