Ray Lewis generally isn't hospitable toward running backs that aren't employed by the Ravens. Throughout his career, the inside linebacker has made a habit of treating opposing running backs like the enemy.
But Lewis took a different path when asked about this Sunday's adversary, LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles.
"A complete back, complete back," Lewis said of McCoy. "He is one of those guys that he has a little flavor. I don't want to put him that high up there with [former Detroit Lions great] Barry Sanders, but he has that type of ability to really jump in the hole, jump out of hole the way you saw many highlights of the many people he made miss time and time again. So you really have to cradle him. You have to keep him in the box and make him play football inside those boxes, kind of where he doesn't want to be. But he is a complete back, catching the ball out of the backfield, catching the ball on screens, running inside and outside. So yeah, we have our hands full this week."
That's high praise from Lewis, whose words caught McCoy by surprise.
"That's big coming from Ray," McCoy said. "He was just probably being generous. I've just got to keep working. That's a nice thing to say, but I have a job to do and he has a job to do. So we'll see how that plays out this week. But it means a lot coming from Ray Lewis."
Amongst the many options that Philadelphia has in quarterback Michael Vick, wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and tight end Brent Celek, McCoy may be the most significant piece of the offensive puzzle. A threat to carry the ball or catch it, McCoy has few equals — past or present, according to NFL ON CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf.
"He's just everything you'd like to have in a running back — much like what Baltimore has with Ray Rice," said the former St. Louis Rams offensive tackle, who will provide color commentary for Sunday's contest. "He's got speed; he's got power; he's got good hands; he's a good receiver; he's good out in space. If he has to block, he's not going to hurt anybody, but he's not afraid to stick his face in there. He's just what you'd like to say about any position player. If you were going to throw him a compliment, you would say, 'He's a player.' He's a good, all-around player that doesn't appear to have any weaknesses."
McCoy enjoyed a record-setting season in 2011, posting franchise marks in rushing touchdowns (17) and total scores (20). His 1,309 rushing yards ranked fourth among all NFL backs en route to the first Pro Bowl invitation of his four-year career.
In the Eagles' 17-16 win against the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, McCoy finished with his 10th career 100-yard performance, tallying 110 yards on 20 carries. But his showing was overshadowed by Vick's career-high 56 pass attempts and four interceptions.
Vick acknowledged that the offense needs to be more balanced, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said the final score was the most important result.
"We won the game," he said. "But certainly you look at that, and we could have done some other things. That's hard just because you have a whole overload of turnovers and stuff. Just because it didn't work very well because of the penalties and turnovers doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing to do, and you know we look at that closely."
Coach Andy Reid wouldn't say whether McCoy has been lobbying the coaching staff for more touches against the Ravens ("They all want more, and that's OK. That's the way you want them as a coach," Reid said.), but McCoy said he wasn't unhappy with the run-pass ratio in Sunday's win.
"I felt like I got enough — enough to win the game," he said. "When it was late, they gave me the ball enough. So I thought it was good. We won the game despite all the turnovers and everything."
McCoy is a tantalizing blend of speed, power and vision, but his ability to shift directions may be his greatest asset. Against the Browns, McCoy rushed just four times between the tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.
Sixteen carries went outside an offensive tackle, and McCoy gained 87 yards. Eleven of those attempts went to the right side, where he averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said containing McCoy will be a challenge for his unit.
"He is very difficult because he is a guy that will take the ball outside in a minute, whether it's designed to be or not," Pees said. "The biggest challenge this week is the play may look like an inside-zone play, and he may jump it outside. It may look like an outside stretch play the way the line is blocking and the way he takes the ball originally, and he may cut it back. So it's certainly a big challenge, and he is the reason."
The Ravens can neutralize McCoy with inside penetration from their defensive front and an improved effort by outside linebackers Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan and Courtney Upshaw to set the edges. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said the unit will also emphasize gang-tackling McCoy.
"He's a guy who, if something's not open, he'll make it open," Ngata said. "If he's trying to run outside, he's going to go outside because his speed is just fast, and he's able to get out there even with defensive linemen out there. If you're trying to contain him, he's still able to get out there and make some plays. So we've got to try our best to get him contained and tackle him as best we can."