When Ed Reed intercepted five passes and made 85 total tackles as a rookie for the Baltimore Ravens in 2002, he changed the way NFL teams view safeties in terms of the draft. He was a true playmaker that could not only blanket the field in coverage, but also erase potential mistakes and be a force against the run.
Since then, more safeties like the Colts’ Bob Sanders, the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu and the Redskins’ LaRon Landry have been taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft (or in the cases of Polamalu and Landry, the top 20 of the NFL draft), because teams have come to realize just how much of an impact safeties could have in the right defensive scheme.
In the Ravens’ 27-9 playoff victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Reed once again demonstrated what a dynamic playmaker at the safety position could do for a defense. He intercepted Chad Pennington twice, one of which he returned 64-yards for a touchdown, and helped blanket Miami receivers for four quarters.
It’s only fair to note that Reed’s first interception was a poorly under thrown pass by Pennington, but the touchdown return essentially turned the momentum of the game in the Ravens’ favor. And Reed’s second interception in the second half (in which he jumped an underneath route in the red zone), put a dagger in the Dolphins’ comeback hopes. He changed the momentum of the game with just two plays and he’s a huge reason why Baltimore now has a date with No. 1-seeded Tennessee next weekend in the Divisional Round.
While establishing solid offensive and defensive lines and having a quality quarterback still remain the focal points for teams, enlisting a playmaker at safety should continue to be a top priority for playoff contending teams. Unfortunately getting their hands on one isn’t as easy as picking up toilet paper at the local grocery store, but it seems that the teams that have top safeties are the ones often making the playoffs on a consistent basis.
The Ravens-Titans game next weekend will feature two of the better safeties in the NFL with Reed matching wits with youngster Michael Griffin. Both teams played outstanding defensively this year and with the way the Ravens handled veteran Chad Pennington on Sunday, it’ll be interesting to see how Kerry Collins fares next weekend. What a great defensive battle that game will be.
The 2008 NFL Season is only a quarter of the way finished, but it already looks like it could be one of the craziest years in some time. And as if anyone needed a reason to tune in this year, I’ve gone ahead and listed 32 of them below.
In no particular order:
1. Parity still rules. Who would have thought that the Bills and Titans would have better records at this point than the Colts, Patriots and Jaguars?
2. The Giants. The G-Men are the best team in the league and nobody is talking about them.
3. Aaron Rodgers is holding his own. The Packers have dropped three straight after starting the year 2-0, but that’s hardly Rodgers’ fault. The young man has gone through a lot this year and he continues to impress, including playing with an injured shoulder and throwing nine touchdown passes in five games.
4. The Colts 17-point fourth quarter comeback against the Texans in Week 5.
5. Preseason predictions still mean nothing. There’s no greater feeling than checking out who the pundits predict will be the best teams in the NFL in preseason…then realizing how wrong they were after the first couple weeks of the season.
6. Jason Campbell’s development. People in the know say that it usually takes a quarterback 2-3 years to fully learn the West Coast Offense but so far this year, Campbell has thrown for over 1,000 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. And oh-by-the-way, he also has the Redskins at 4-1. First-year head coach Jim Zorn has done a remarkable job in Washington so far.
7. The Titans. There’s not a defense in the league that has been more clutch late in games than Tennessee has.
8. Ronnie Brown. No offense to Ricky Williams, but it’s nice to see that the guy who didn’t quit on the game because he wanted more time to smoke weed is having more success than the guy who did.
9. The balance of power is starting to shift between the two conferences. The AFC has long dominated the NFC in terms of teams and quality of play, but so far this year those roles have been reversed. Four of the top five or six teams in the league belong to the NFC.
10. Brett Favre. Through five weeks, no signal caller in the league has a better QB rating than Favre. And his six-touchdown performance against the Cardinals in Week 4 was vintage Brett.
11. Baltimore’s defense. They might be aging unit, but Ray Lewis and Co. can still lay the wood can’t they?
12. Rookie quarterbacks playing well. Matt Ryan just went into Lambeau and knocked off the Packers, while Joe Flacco almost pulled off upsets against top defenses in Pittsburgh and against Tennessee. These first round signal callers have been impressive to say the least.
13. Adrian Peterson. Forget the sophomore slump – the 2007 Offensive Rookie of the Year is proving that he’s no fluke.
14. The Bears finally have a quarterback. Kyle Orton is nowhere close to being the best quarterback in the league, but watch him play – he has a little gunslinger mentality in him. And hey, he’s no Rex Grossman, which is a great thing (just ask Bear fans).
15. Kurt Warner. Some groaned when the veteran unseated youngster Matt Leinart in preseason, but so far head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s decision to go with Warner has paid off.
16. The Dolphins. They might be all hype right now, but who cares? The Fins’ fan base saw only one win last year – let them enjoy the ride.
17. Ben Roethlisberger’s toughness. This is arguably the worst offensive line the Steelers have produced in years, yet Big Ben continues to show how underrated he really is. His performance against Jacksonville in Week 5 was simply amazing.
18. The Bills. It’s easy to pull for a young team and most of their wins this year have been nail bitters. Hopefully QB Trent Edwards is okay from the hit he took against Arizona last Sunday and he’ll get back on the field soon.
19. The young Titans’ secondary. Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin share the league lead for interceptions. And they play in the same defensive backfield.
20. Marty Booker’s catch against the Lions.
21. Jay Cutler. The kid is cocky but it’s hard not to like his swagger.
22. Michael Turner’s running style.
23. Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. The Packers’ wideouts are just two example of why teams don’t need to spend first round picks on receivers.
24. Fresh starts in Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis. Yes these three franchises are a mess. But maybe there is a silver lining now that Lane Kiffin, Matt Millen and Scott Linehan all received their walking papers. Maybe…
25. Eli Manning. The former first overall pick is proving that last year’s postseason performance wasn’t a fluke and he really has taken the next step as a NFL quarterback.
26. The Panthers. Jake Delhomme is healthy and playing well again, rookie Jonathan Stewart has been a great complement to DeAngelo Williams and the run defense has been fantastic so far. Carolina is a legitimate contender in the NFC.
27. Monte Kiffin’s defense. The Bucs don’t even rank in the top 10 in any major defensive category except for points allowed, but ask Matt Ryan, Kyle Orton and Aaron Rodgers if they would want to face Kiffin’s unit on a weekly basis.
28. The Patriots are still finding ways to win. It hasn’t been pretty, but Bill Belichick and New England are still finding ways to win despite not having Tom Brady under center. Even after being blown out by Miami at home in Week 3, the Pats are still a team to watch out for in the AFC.
29. Reggie Bush. He might not be able to run consistently between the tackles but he sure as hell can run outside of them.
30. Terrell Owens…when he shuts up and just plays. And Tony Romo…when he can hang on to the football.
31. The Bengals. For providing the casual football fan with plenty of entertainment off the field.
32. Al Davis. For providing the casual football fan with plenty of entertainment off the filed.