- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

As if life weren’t difficult enough these days for the Washington Redskins offense, the struggling unit now gets the test of a season: Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis.

Perhaps no player inspires more fear in opponents than Lewis, who last season won his second NFL Defensive Player of the Year award after recording a franchise-record 225 tackles.

At 29 a Super Bowl winner and six-time Pro Bowl selection, Lewis could be his generation’s most dominant player at any position. This offseason USA Today’s Sports Weekly surveyed a wide range of NFL general managers and scouts, and they voted Lewis the league’s No.1 player, ahead of other stars like Peyton Manning and Randy Moss.

Most Redskins players offer similar praise.

“You can just see the fire in his eyes,” linebacker Marcus Washington said yesterday. “He comes out with a purpose, and his purpose is to kick your butt.”

Somehow, the Redskins must overcome Lewis in Sunday night’s game against the Ravens. The task won’t be easy. Washington’s offense has sputtered through four games, and following last weekend’s loss at Cleveland there are questions about whether coach Joe Gibbs’ scheme has become too predictable.

Previous Redskins teams didn’t stop Lewis. In the 1997 meeting, a 20-17 Ravens win, he had 17 tackles, an interception, a sack and a pass defensed. In the 2000 contest, a 10-3 Redskins win, Lewis had 20 tackles. This time around, Gibbs knows what a challenge the talented, motivated and intense linebacker will be.

“First of all, [he has] great hustle on every play,” Gibbs said. “There’s something about being relentless on defense. He’s certainly that. I think he’s very physical. In other words, you can be hustling, but when you get there you might not be able to do anything. [And] I don’t know him personally, but he must be a good student of the game. He’s smart. He gets in the right places. He knows what to do.”

It might sound strange, but Kansas City did a good job against Lewis on Monday night by limiting him to 11 tackles in a 27-24 Chiefs win. Lewis was frequently stymied by the Chiefs, who either double-teamed him or simply got a big body in his way. In addition, Kansas City smartly went right at the superstar.

“They weren’t running a lot lateral,” Redskins tight end Walter Rasby said. “They were running straight downhill. They were forcing him to make a decision right then and there. Sometimes he’s going to make that play regardless. But I think you put yourself at a disadvantage if you try to run away from him. He’ll catch you.”

The theory is that if Lewis struggles at anything, it is shedding straight-on blocks with his 6-foot-1, 245-pound frame.

“You’ve just got to block the guy,” right guard Randy Thomas said. “He’s got the advantage with the speed. He’s probably quicker than a lot of linebackers. But just like anybody — if you hit him and stay on him, you can block him.”

Washington’s attempts to keep a blocker on Lewis will be countered by efforts to protect Lewis by Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (the Redskins’ coordinator from 1997 to 1999). Baltimore’s scheme often permits Lewis to stay behind the first wave of blockers, then swoop in for the tackle.

The Redskins most likely to hook up with Lewis are Thomas and fellow guard Derrick Dockery. The Chiefs’ guards did a superb job of releasing and getting on Lewis. But Dockery knows it won’t be easy.

“He’s an energetic guy, a high-motor guy,” Dockery said. “Every time you play that Baltimore Ravens defense, you better bring your A-game, or it might be a long day.”

Not all Redskins were quick to praise Lewis, however. Thomas said, “He ain’t God.” And H-back Mike Sellers, who battled Lewis while a Redskin and a Brown, went further.

“I don’t think he’s as good as a lot of people say he is,” Sellers said. “He’s a great sideline-to-sideline player but filling the holes? I don’t think so. That’s just one opinion, though.”

The keys to stopping Lewis, according to Sellers, are to match his intensity and not be scared.

“He’s human,” Sellers said. “Everyone has their flaw. You’ve just got to find his. Some people have found it. Some people haven’t. Some people are intimidated by the ‘Ray Lewis’ thing.”

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