How One Reporter Trolled the Baltimore Ravens By Suggesting Ray Lewis and Ed Reed Be Benched
In most parts of the country, a team in the midst of a playoff bye week and headed toward home field advantage wouldn’t be facing questions about whether two of its super star players should sit. But thanks to the often controversial Baltimore Sun reporter Mike Preston, the Ravens have been dealing with questions about ILB Ray Lewis and FS Ed Reed’s fitness to play. The question about the question is whether the question is even a valid one. My take: Congratulations Ravens, you’ve been trolled.
I wrote myself a note to watch more of the Ravens during the off season on NFL game rewind so that I can form a more complete opinion on Lewis and Reed’s contributions (assuming both Lewis and Reed do not retire at the end of the season making such a project lose its value). But I have seen quite a few Ravens games this year and two things are apparent: Lewis lacks his previous balance of being valuable against both the pass and the run, and Reed is certainly playing more cautiously, something that he admitted when he submitted to an interview with ESPN during the lockout. It doesn’t take a football guru to make these two observations.
The issue for me is twofold: 1. Are we judging Lewis and Reed by comparing them to their former selves rather than comparing them to the rest of the talent in the league and on their team? 2. Are Lewis and Reed held to a higher standard even when injured than we hold other players to?
I think the answer is yes and yes. And that’s why I think Preston trolled the Ravens with this:
But here’s the problem: The team’s two potential Hall of Famers, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, haven’t played well, and the Ravens haven’t addressed the issue. It’s time. You can’t hide them any longer. They’re still playing well enough for the Ravens to win most of their games, but are playing poorly enough where they might cost them deep into the postseason… Harbaugh knows it. He watches film. As the players say, “the eye in the sky doesn’t lie.”
…But on the sidelines Sunday, players privately questioned why Reed wasn’t pulled after whiffing on a tackle. The Ravens have safeties-in-waiting in Tom Zbikowski, but neither has the experience to call the plays on the back end like Reed, or can cover as much ground.
This is trolling for a number of reasons. Preston says that Lewis and Reed are playing well enough for the Ravens to win most of their games–which I believe is the goal of most players–but then goes on to say they’re playing bad enough to be a liability in the same games that they’ve helped their team get to. This sounds like a set up to blame Lewis and Reed if the Ravens don’t make or win the Super Bowl. A sad thing to do given the team’s up and down rollercoaster offense, and the fact that Football Outsiders has the Ravens defense ranked #1. Preston says Harbaugh should “talk” to Reed and Lewis but is his argument that they aren’t playing well cause they’re not trying or because they can’t cause they’re old and and in Reed’s case fragile? Finally, all players that don’t get to play question why the players that play get to play–so don’t try to play me with that playa.
For the record, there are teams with strong defenses that have 2 or 3 weak links that aren’t benched cause they’re still better than the options behind them. In those cases reporters covering those teams typically point out and lament those players’ failings but leave the benching talk in their computer’s trash bin where it belongs.
That’s why these next two quotes are telling. Trolls typically: 1. negate their own point and 2. have a personal gripe. And Preston goes:
But it’s difficult watching Lewis play on Sundays. He is a victim of his own success, having set standards so high that even he can no longer reach them. He is still one of the better linebackers in the league, but not the Lewis that used to destroy running backs, and take away a team’s desire to play against him.
That covers 1…
I’ve had my share of fights with Reed, and at times he has gone over the line and made it personal. But I’ve never questioned his respect and love of the game, or his love for his fellow man.
And there’s 2…
And this article is why athletes have so many gripes with the press. It’s one thing to write an article on what you’d like to see Lewis and Reed do better and to point out where they’ve failed and question whether or not they could play better, it’s entirely different to suggest they be benched for having an age-altered style of play that at this particular point in time isn’t a real issue–or else their team would NOT be making a Super Bowl run. It’s not uncommon for smart teams to integrate aging players with younger ones which the Ravens appear to be doing successfully. The time to decrease Lewis and Reed’s play (or move them to 2nd string altogether) would be next year not right now. Preston knows this, points it out in his article, and then goes onto ignore the fact, yet another characteristic of trolling.
When I initially sat down to address this my headline was going to be “Criticism of Lewis and Reed’s play heats up in Baltimore” but upon further examination I realized that that would legitimize Preston’s column in a way that it didn’t deserve. And, in a way, that Lewis and Reed don’t deserve. For the record, as an Eagles and Falcons fan I’d welcome–with open bird wings–Lewis or Reed to play for either team TODAY. You haven’t seen whiffing on tackles until you’ve seen the Eagles defense play. Preston would bench the whole team.
Again, Lewis and Reed are not playing the way they used to. And in Reed’s case that might be a good thing.
Reed is my favorite safety of all time behind Darren Sharper. The reason I put Sharper over Reed is that Reed has traditionally, in my opinion, hung his corners out to dry a bit and negated the ability of OTHER guys on the team to make plays. Not a lot of sharing going on on Reed’s watch. It’s a perk of playing the ball like a mad man. It becomes your world. I remember safety Dawan Landry saying that when he was with the Ravens he just went wherever Reed told him to go. Ultimately Reed has been and should be rewarded for it all because he’s been right so much when he cheats up or baits the QB.
But now that he’s backed off the ball to lessen the frequency of contact a bit we get to see guys like Webb get 5 of those fancy interceptions Reed used to love so much (and that Preston keeps “waiting” for him to make). And to my mind it’s not a bad thing, especially with the new rules limiting the way that corners not named Darrelle Revis get to play. They need pass support from their free safety, and they need a little practice in learning when to hop a route. Something that, when Reed’s play was dramatically elevated, there was no opportunity to do because they were often the last line of defense against the pass especially with the Ravens often treating the strong safety like a disposable puzzle piece.
Just a reminder, these were the same kinds of arguments people made about Brian Dawkins that allowed the Eagles to get rid of him without much blowback. And now the Broncos have a strong defense that is headed to the playoffs in large part because of his play. Play that, like Lewis and Reed, is a step below the way he used to be but still heads and tails above many.
Oh yeah where was I?
DON’T TROLL ME BRO!