Tunch talks Ravens - Steelers
George Von Benko: As you look at this club coming into the Baltimore game, the first thing I notice this week is that the war of words has started already.
Tunch Ilkin: You know, it's funny that entire defense, meaning the Ravens, becomes much more bold with a healthy Ray Lewis. Ray really is the glue that holds that defense together. He is the captain. He's the leader, emotionally and physically. He's a great player.
George,I've been around this game for 23 years and I was a fan before I got to the National Football League. I've never seen a linebacker play the way Ray Lewis does. He has go tremendous speed. He is one the best, if not the best, open field tackler I've ever seen in my life. Most guys in the open field when they are coming onto a ball carrier who has all this green, they'll governor it down a little bit. They'll start taking choppier steps because they don't want to miss. They don't want to be made to look foolish. Here comes Ray Lewis. He does not shorten his strides. He goes through the ball carrier. He explodes into every tackle. He just blows people up. He's just amazing. Even if he overruns a play, you watch him and he'll duck under an offensive lineman to the backside of a play. But he's got the speed to just turn the corner. He almost looks like a pass rusher coming around the offensive tackle. He dips his shoulder and he'll catch a fast running back from behind. He's so strong that he can grab a guy with one hand and yank him. It is really amazing. Not only is he a great tackler and a great player, from the standpoint of making plays in the open field, he knows the game. The guy is a student of the game. He is never out of position. If you look at the tape of the Washington Redskins – Baltimore Ravens game, the flea flicker touchdown pass that was for about 40 or 50 yards for Washington, if you look at the guy that almost makes the play, it's Ray Lewis! He's actually beaten both safeties down the field to almost get a hand on that play. He's was about six inches from breaking that play up. That tell me #1 that he didn't go for the fake. And #2, he's fast enough to run with the safeties and the wide receivers in the National Football League. It was just a phenomenal play.
GVB: From a challenge standpoint for the Steeler offense, with him in the Baltimore defense, it really is a tough assignment for the Steelers.
TI: They have to be very conscious of where he is. It is not like they are all going to be pointing to him, but here is what happens. When you play against a player of the caliber, you've got to crank your game up. You've got to bring your "A" game. You just can't say, "okay, I'm going to chip off the defensive tackle here if I'm an offensive guard and I'm going to go up on the linebacker." You have to be ready because if your feet aren't under you, when you make contact with Ray Lewis, and your body position is not low enough and you do not have leverage, he's going to knock you down. It's going to be embarrassing. It's going to look ugly. So you have to bring your "A" game. You have to bring your big boy pads because he's going to hit you. Chuck Noll used to say, "It is better to give than to receive." On the football field, there are the hitters and the hittees. You don't want to be the hittee. So, you have to make sure that if you're blocking him that #1 you got your assignment check because if you don't who your blocking he's going to kill your ball carrier, your quarterback, whoever is running the ball. And #2, you have got to have good technique.
GVB: On the other side of the ball, we know what the Steeler defense is going through with the loss of Joey Porter. It was great to see him back. I think it buoyed the team the other day when he came back and visited. He's going to be on the sidelines, but is the Steeler defense capable of weathering the loss of Joey Porter?
TI: I think so, especially in the short term because I think Clark Haggans is going to do a fine job. And I think James Farrior picks up the slack for him in the dime as the dime linebacker. I think that when you lose an inspirational player, a key player like a Joey Porter, you can pick up the slack. Other guys on that defense will pick up the slack. Clark Haggans will pick up the slack. Mike Logan will pick up the slack. Kendrell Bell, Jason Gildon will pick up the slack. I think over the course of the year, it gets to be a little more difficult. The good news is that Joey Porter is healing nicely. He's on schedule, and who knows, maybe he only misses three ball games. During those three games, I think you have a defense that can do more than pick up the slack for Joey Porter. I think where it can become a challenge is if this injury, for whatever reason lingers and it becomes a 5, 6, 7, 8, 9-week injury.
GVB: Quick little chalk talk, what are the keys to victory for the Steelers on Sunday?
TI: #1, defensively speaking, the Steelers have to stop Jamal Lewis. He looks like he is completely back from the ACL surgery that he had two years ago. He's a big back that has great speed. He'll hit the hole quickly. He's a terrific cutback runner. Steelers have to stop him. The second time last season these two teams played each other they didn't do a very good job of that. Although that conventional wisdom says that you can't run the ball on the Steelers and you have to try to throw, the Ravens are going to run the ball. If they are successful running the ball, it could be a long day for the Steelers. You've got to stop him [Lewis], control Todd Heap, and confuse rookie quarterback Kyle Boller.
GVB: Okay, now, one of the features of this segment is that we take a question from the fans each week. We got started late and we didn't have a fan question so I'm going to be the fan this week. My question is were you a better player or Craig Wolfley a better player during your Steeler days.
TI: Ah, Wolf was much better (laughter). I'm not going to dog my partner. It's funny. We were so competitive, that we trained together, we worked together, we ran together. And we're still together. We're in the broadcasting business together. It has been great. We are the closest of friends and we've been buddies for 23 years. So it's great. We've been roommates on the road for 10 years and in training camp for 10 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And now we get a chance to work together…