Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 1/4/12

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 16: Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens spits in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Lucas Oli Stadium on January 16, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts defeated the Ravens 20-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
A legend must stand the test of time.  Time wears on football players.  Baltimore legends Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have fought time and dominated time.  This year, time is fighting back.

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston raised the question of whether Ray Lewis and Ed Reed can keep up in the playoffs.  He went so far as to suggest that neither should be an every down player.  Lewis has lost a step; Reed can't tackle the way he once could.  From a purely physical standpoint, neither play is elite.  But football is not purely physical.

Lewis and Reed are both game changers.  Lewis makes every player around him better.  His passion and leadership are often discussed, but that passion is not his greatest on-field contribution.  It is Lewis' football IQ and his meticulous study of the game that increases the performance level of the entire defense.  Lewis is a player-coach.  He is not only the ultimate motivator, he is able to manage the defense on every snap.

Reed is also a student of the game turned professor.  However, Reed most significantly impacts the game by forcing opposing coaches and quarterbacks to account for his uncanny instincts.  Reed doesn't just lift up his teammates- he changes the way opponents approach the game.  Reed's presence in the secondary costs opposing teams preparation time.  Shifting around in the backfield, Reed also makes quarterbacks think twice.  Quarterback hesitation is just what it takes to feed sack artist Terrell Suggs.

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed can't help but show their age.  Their strengths are balanced by their weaknesses, which makes the bye week all the more significant for the Ravens.  The physical strain on Reed and Lewis is somewhat mitigated by the opportunity each has to recharge over the next two weeks.  Moreover, their intellectual strengths not only reinforce the Baltimore defense, but highlight the intricate and cognitive side of football as a whole.

This season, these two longtime cornerstones of the Baltimore defense are physically capable of holding up, even if they aren't in their prime.  More importantly, they are not just the heart, but the brain of the defense.  Lewis' days are numbered; Reed's days are numbered.  However, Lewis and Reed are each number one at their respective positions.  They aren't just good enough to step on the field every play- they're good enough to make every defensive player more effective.

There will soon come a time when Lewis and Reed cannot contribute to the Ravens by buckling up their “chin scraps.”  That time is not now.  Lewis and Reed are vital to running the defense and disrupting opposing offenses.  If the saying “beauty before age” carries any weight, these two legends' minds clearly trump the slight decline in their bodies.  If the saying “defense wins championships” carries any weight, the Ravens need Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.  Every down. 
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