Saturday, February 2, 2013

Through My Empirical Lens

Through My Empirical Lens

Nick Dobis
The Changing of the Guard

Linebackers can be incredible creatures.

The best ones appear to be half human, half beast. On the field their eyes need to pierce their prey. A heart-stopping stare with the ability to waiver a tailback’s determination and shake the confidence of a quarterback. They need the prudence of a predator, stalking their prey with precision. Then, in that moment of truth, they must unleash their tempered intensity in a spectacle of controlled violence. They must rile up the pack before the fight, and steady its nerves in times of doubt with their actions. Instead of fearing danger, they must have an insatiable thirst for it. Pain for them is an afterthought reflected upon long after the fight is complete.

They are athletes who mesmerize us with their speed, strength, and cunning instincts. But what separates the good linebackers from the incredible? The heart of a lion. A a fitting analogy for Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis. According to a Yahoo Sports report, Willis has often endearingly referred to Lewis as “Mufasa”, The Lion King.

There will be no shortage of incredible linebackers when the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens step foot under the brightest lights in all of American sports tomorrow, but number 52 will be the player to watch for both teams. The question is which lion will lead their pride to victory, the young up and coming Simba, or Mufasa, who in his final game has nothing left to lose?  

Ray’s Last Ride

Photo Via Injoymint

I was too young to remember an NFL in which Lawrence Taylor laid waste to offenses, but ever since I first became truly infatuated with the game, Ray Lewis has had as much of an impact on the game. Since entering the league as a first round draft pick out of the University of Miami in 1996, Lewis has been the physical and emotional cornerstone of the Ravens. In his hall of fame career, Lewis has registered 2,061 tackles (1,567 solo), 42 sacks (his first ever was against Jim Harbaugh, current 49ers head coach), 31 interceptions and 13 Pro Bowl selections. The last time he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl in 2001, they blew out the New York Giants 34-7 and was awarded MVP of the game. After tearing one of his triceps in October, Lewis returned to field in the Wild Card round against the Indianapolis Colts, vowing this season would be his last. It is that emotional momentum the Ravens have ridden all the way to the Super bowl.

Although he is beloved by the city of Baltimore, and many others around the league, there are those who cannot separate the extremely vocal and passionate player from the man with the off-field controversies. He is often marred for by his murder case and its misconceptions, along with the most recent allegations of his use of a banned substance. Despite the uncertainty of his overall legacy, two things do remain certain. One, The Raven’s need a lights-out, disciplined performance from Lewis and the defensive front-seven in order to stop a dynamic 49ers offense from being victorious. Two, the NFL will not be quite the same once he steps off the field for good Sunday. 

The Heir Has Risen

Photo Via Opinionsfordays
There are two specific plays from the linebacker’s days at Ole Miss which revealed Patrick Willis' potential as the chosen one to fulfill Lewis’ legacy. The first is this one against the Arkansas Razorbacks. If you don’t recognize the young man taking the snap in the Wildcat formation, that is Darren McFadden, future first round draft pick and current starting NFL tailback :

Still not impressed? This next one against LSU should do the trick:

Satisfied? Since entering the NFL as a first round draft pick in 2007, Willis has registered 812 tackles (622 solo), 18 Sacks, and seven interceptions. He was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007 and has received six Pro Bowl nods in his young career. Despite having led the 49ers to the post season only twice, Willis transferred his regular season excellence when its mattered most, registering 35 tackles and two sacks in four playoff games. Though not as vocal or emotional as Lewis, Willis is the glue which holds together a stout 49er defense. Not only does he have the speed to chase down the league's best running backs, but he matches up nicely with almost every tight end. If the 49ers wish to hoist the Lombardi trophy in New Orleans, Patrick Willis must help bottle up a dangerous Ray Rice, and be a constant nuisance for Raven’s tight end Dennis Pitta. 

The Edge?

I usually love favoring the salty veteran, especially since he’s likely to play with reckless abandon in his final game. But I expect the young lion to help his team claim a 6th super bowl title for the red and gold. This is a 49er defense which has played arguably the toughest schedule in the NFL against its premier quarterbacks this season, largely proving their worth in those games. No matter the outcome, The NFL will see the torch be passed on to Willis, and shall hear Baltimore's favorite Raven say, "nevermore."

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