Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has had the privilege to play alongside linebacker Ray Lewis. In Rice’s eyes, Lewis is the best linebacker in the game of football.
On Thanksgiving, Rice will have to go up against San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis — whom Rice believes is very similar to Lewis.
“He’s the closest thing to it [being the best],” Rice said in a conference call on Monday. “He plays the game the right way. He’s a tenacious player. A lot of respect for that guy.
“[I] look forward to the opportunity to play against a guy like him. Take Ray [Lewis] out, he’s the second best linebacker in the NFL right now.”
Rice has been a dynamic running back in the league for a few years but the challenge on Thursday is against the 49ers run defense. The 49ers haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown in 11 straight games and a rusher hasn’t eclipsed a 100 yards on the ground in 32 straight games.
There’s a similarity in the 49ers’ run defense to that of the Ravens’ defense.
“You look at the other side of the ball and you look at what’s going on over there, it kind of reminds us of our own defense,” Rice said. “They take a lot of pride in not only stopping the run, but not allowing a rusher to score a touchdown. It’s going to be a challenge. Every yard matters in this game. It’s going to be a slugfest. We know it’s going to be a challenge and look forward to the opportunity.”
Similarities between the 49ers and Ravens extend past the defense. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh had implemented the blue collar shirts in the locker room since training camp, emphasizing a blue collar mentality to football. His older brother John also did that a couple years ago with the Ravens.
Rice understands the message and sees it as the right approach to the game.
“It was a simple message,” Rice recalled. “That’s the kind of guys we want to be. No guy is bigger than the team, we just come to work every day.”
Rice still owns the blue collar shirt he was issued a couple years ago. He hasn’t worn it for some time but the message still resonates with him.
“Never get too high, never get too low,” Rice said. “I’m an even keel kind of guy.”