Manning Says Rivalry with Ravens, Lewis as Mental as it is Physical
INDIANAPOLIS – Peyton Manning respects Ray Lewis. Very much.
But when it comes to their head-to-head matchups, of which there has been one a season in most recent seasons, Lewis – a nine-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens – and the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback don't agree.
Lewis likes them, and said Wednesday he anticipates them eagerly.
Manning? Well . . .
Not so much.
"I was talking to the Baltimore media and they were saying how Ray really enjoys this matchup," Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (2-2) prepared to play the Ravens (2-2) in an AFC game at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m.
Manning smiled, adding, "I don't know that I really enjoy it all that much because of what a challenge it is, and what my week is like preparing for these guys. You really cannot study enough. You know as much as you've studied all week, and as much as they've shown, they're still going to do something that they haven't shown all season."
Manning, in six career regular-season meetings against Baltimore, has completed 138 of 216 passes for 1,703 yards and 13 touchdowns with three interceptions, and in the four meetings since the 2002 arrival of Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, he has eight touchdown passes and one interception.
The Colts have won all four regular-season meetings since 2002, and also beat the Ravens, 15-6, in the playoffs following the 2006 regular-season, a game in which Manning completed 15 of 30 passes for 170 yards and two interceptions.
Dungy has said some of Manning's best games – including a 24-7 victory in the 2005 regular-season opener – have come against the Ravens, and not necessarily because of statistics. The Ravens, Dungy said, provide a unique – and often exhausting – mental challenge at which Manning excels.
"I think he enjoys the challenge, and any time we play against Baltimore, the quarterback has to do well," Dungy said. "It's not necessarily going to be in stats or touchdown passes or anything, but he has to have a great game to move the ball against those guys.
"I think Peyton does relish that challenge."
Lewis called the meetings with Manning a chess match, to which Manning said, "That's a pretty good word for it, because they have so much flexibility on their defense.
"Ray and (safety) Ed Reed, you see them changing things up on defense," Manning said. "I don't know if you'd call it audibles or what, but those guys study a lot of film. It's a credit to their defense for how much they can handle mentally. It's a very complex defense, multiple looks and multiple blitzes.
"Some teams can't do that, because their players can't handle it. It's a credit to these guys. They can handle obviously a lot of nickel, blitz packages – whatever it may be.
"There's a little bit of that chess match. It's always a challenge moving the ball against these guys."
Manning said first- and second-down situations will be particularly key against Baltimore, a defense that is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in yards allowed, passing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed and a defense Manning said is particularly dangerous in 3rd-and-long situations.
Then again, Manning said the presence not only of Lewis, but of Reed – like Lewis, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year – makes the Ravens tough no matter the down.
"He takes a lot of pride in his profession," Manning said of Lewis. "I can tell how much he studies, playing against him and watching him play. The times I've been around him at the Pro Bowl, talking football with him, he's very knowledgeable. You can tell he studies a lot. There are plenty of times Ray has called out the play we're running.
"He's fairly accurate. Even if he's right, that doesn't mean you can't execute the play, but the mental part of it is extremely impressive the way he prepares."
Added Manning, "I'm not saying he's 100 percent on calling the plays out. He's called a couple of plays out where I've kind of smiled and gone, 'That's not it.' Part of it's natural and can't be taught, but part of it is the way he studies and what he sees and what he takes from the film room to the practice field to the playing field. He's definitely a guy you have to account for and you have to be sharp mentally."
The Colts beat the Ravens last season, 44-20, in a nationally-televised, prime-time game in Baltimore, a game in which Manning had four touchdown passes before leaving early in the third quarter. The Ravens at the time were in the middle of a nine-game losing streak, and had lost a heartbreaking game the week before to then-unbeaten New England, 27-24.
"It was kind of something you can't really live on," Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said of last year's victory over the Ravens. "Not taking away from those guys, but they were kind of down last year when we played them. We played them the game after they played New England.
"You could tell they put all of their eggs in one basket that game, and it didn't work out right. I won't say they had packed it in, but it's really different when a team knows it's not in the playoffs and a team is. They're balling right now. They're going to be hungry. They're on a two-game losing streak, so it's going to be a physical game."
Said Dungy, "We don't have many of those (high-scoring games) against those guys. We caught them where they had some DBs (defensive backs) injured. They were coming off a real emotional game. They had lost at the wire against New England. We played them on a short week and we got up quick, but most of the games we've had against them have really been struggles."