Whenever something is new and dominant, this current generation has a way of calling it the best. Take the 2019 Ravens.
According to some around town, this is the best Ravens team ever. Maybe that judgment is based on the excitement and euphoria surrounding quarterback Lamar Jackson or the record-setting offense that has helped produce a 12-game winning streak and a 14-2 regular-season record.
This team is certainly the most balanced of any in team history, including the two championship teams, but the title of the best still belongs to the 2000 Ravens, who won Super Bowl XXXV, 34-7, over the New York Giants.
That team was so dominant defensively that it would overcome any shortcomings. The 2000 Ravens were made for a showdown with a team like the current Ravens, and it would win a lot of the individual matchups.
It’s easy to get sucked up in all the hype in 2019. The Ravens have gutted the opposition with a powerful running game, which has assisted in producing a league-best 33.2 points per game. There is a special feeling around this team because this city hasn’t seen this type of offense since the old Colts days with quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Bert Jones.
But a great defense will always beat a great offense. When all the components come together, defense still rules. In the 2000 regular season, the Ravens allowed only 165 points, shut out four opponents and held the opposition to 10 points or fewer 11 times.
But this might be the biggest factor that works in the 2000 team’s favor: The current team has a lot of Baby Ravens who have played three seasons or less, such as Jackson, running back Gus Edwards, offensive linemen Orlando Brown Jr. and Bradley Bozeman, tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, receiver Marquise Brown, defensive end Chris Wormley and cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
In 2000, some of the Ravens’ top players were just starting to enter their primes, such as linebackers Ray Lewis, Jamie Sharper and Peter Boulware, guard Edwin Mulitalo and left tackle Jonathan Ogden.
Those Ravens also had a bunch of tough veterans, such as defensive ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary, defensive tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa and offensive tackle Harry Swayne.
Then there were the legends, including eventual Hall of Famers such as safety Rod Woodson, tight end Shannon Sharpe, Lewis and Ogden.
In reality, it would be the men against the under-developed boys.
Supporters of the current team will say that the 2000 Ravens never faced an athletic, elusive, multi-dimensional weapon at quarterback such as Jackson. True, but Jackson never faced an athletic, fast, multi-dimensional middle linebacker such as Lewis, or a group of linebackers that NFL Films considered to be one of the 10 best of all time.
The 2000 Ravens would win because of their defensive front. The Ravens ran a 4-3, which is designed to stop the run and certainly would cut down on some of the angle and combination blocking the current Ravens use.
The current Ravens would be forced into a lot of one-on-one matchups that they would lose. Siragusa and Adams wouldn’t be moved, which would hurt the inside running game, and Adams would also slow the run game inside the tackles because of his penetration.
That penetration would force Jackson either deep behind the line of scrimmage or wide off the perimeter. On the outside, McCrary would be too fast and too cunning for left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and Burnett would beat young right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in every phase of the game. If they played by old-school rules, in which quarterbacks weren’t protected, Jackson would be a hurting pup.
Also, neither Stanley nor Orlando Brown Jr. would be able to handle the speed of Boulware or Sharper on the outside in pass protection.
And here is the X-factor: In 2000, Lewis was just coming off a trial after a double murder in Atlanta and he was on a mission to prove he was the best player in the NFL.
What separated Lewis from other middle linebackers was his ability to run with running backs or tight ends in pass coverage. Current tight end Mark Andrews wouldn’t be a factor because he would be covered by Lewis or Woodson.
Need proof of how fast Lewis was?
Go ask former running backs such as the Giants’ Tiki Barber, the Tennessee Titans’ Eddie George and Eric Metcalf, who played for seven NFL teams.
Lewis wasn’t just crushing players, but taking away their pride, like he did early in that 2000 season when Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon declined to go back into a game to play against him, which eventually got coach Bruce Coslet fired.
Lewis demolished George and pile-drove quarterback Steve McNair, causing a neck injury in the AFC divisional round. Those Ravens broke players, like when Siragusa flopped on Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon in the AFC title game.
The current Ravens don’t have much of a passing game, and it would be virtually nonexistent against old cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks, who could tackle as well as they could cover. If the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills kept Jackson under control, just think what the 2000 squad would do to him.
On the flip side, the Ravens’ 2000 offense is ideal to beat the current team. The best way to keep Jackson off the field is to run the football, and the Ravens had running backs Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes.
Current Ravens running back Mark Ingram II is good, but he isn’t Jamal Lewis. The game plan would be to keep the current Ravens in their base defense, in which they struggle, and run off tackle behind Ogden and Swayne.
Current Ravens edge defenders Matthew Judon, Chris Wormley and Jaylon Ferguson couldn’t handle Ogden and Swayne.
And who would cover Sharpe?
The Ravens linebackers can’t cover tight ends now, much less a Hall of Famer, even one on the downside of his career.
Former Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer had problems with consistency and arm strength, but the old group of receivers in 2000 of Qadry Ismail, Travis Taylor, Brandon Stokley and Jermaine Lewis was far better than the current group. At least they had speed.
Do I need to go further?
John Harbaugh is a better overall coach than Brian Billick, but Billick was a better organizer and motivator. Supporters of the current team believe that the current special teams units were better than those in 2000, but they were about equal. Kicker Justin Tucker has longer range than Matt Stover, but Stover was excellent too. Sam Koch is a better punter than Kyle Richardson, but the 2000 team had playmakers on the coverage and return units.
In 2000, the Ravens had good coverage guys such as Corey Harris, O.J. Brigance and Brad Jackson, as well as crazy head cases such as Billy Davis and James Trapp.
The current Ravens don’t have any cover guys like those, nor do they have a returner like Jermaine Lewis, who averaged 16.1 yards on punt returns and returned two punts for touchdowns in the regular season and had a pivotal 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl victory.
To me, the 2000 team wins. They had too much experience, too many defensive studs and too many tough guys.
I’ve never been one to get into comparisons much because it can diminish accomplishments. It’s like the bronze medalist at the Olympics having to defend why they finished behind the silver and gold medalists, even though they are the third best in the world at what they do.
It’s like the current Ravens team. To just be in the discussion about being as good as the 2000 and 2012 teams is pretty special.
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It’s just that the 2000 team was better.