The Ed Reed factor

Every position has elite talent in this league—players that have to be accounted for when opposing coaching staffs sit down to script a game plan on Tuesday night of game week.

When we talk about the safety position, those elite players are Baltimore’s Ed Reed and Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu. No different than a defense preparing for a Randy Moss or a Larry Fitzgerald, offensive coaches have to alter the way they call plays throughout a ball game because of the direct impact Reed and Polamalu can have on Sundays.

But, with Ed Reed recovering from reconstructive hip surgery, and saying that he is at “35 percent” in late June, is there a slight sense of concern in Baltimore?

The club went out and signed former Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin recently as a backup plan. A good play and a good pickup—as Hamlin can still start in this league—but the impact isn’t the same.

Think of the Steelers in 2009 without Polamalu. Lose one elite player and the defense doesn’t play or produce in the same way. The turnovers were down on the Steelers defense last season, and we saw a unit that couldn’t close out games. Unusual when we talk about a Pittsburgh defense.

In Baltimore, the effect would be the same if Reed has to miss an extended period of time in 2010 while he rehabs—or isn’t the same player when he does finally return to live action.

As we know, the Ravens are a pressure defense. When they put Reed in the deep middle of the field, and play a form of Cover 1—or use a zone blitz scheme—he can take away any inside breaking route. Think of the post, the skinny post, and the deep dig (15-yard square in). Those are eliminated because of Reed and his ability to recognize route schemes and use his ball skills. And, he still has great range to get over the top of routes that are run vertically outside of the numbers.

Even when the Ravens drop back into coverage in passing situations and play 2-Man, you still have a player that can break downhill on any route and erase an entire half of the field. You take that away from Baltimore and there is a hole in the defense. Every safety in this league watches tape of Reed in the offseason for a reason—because he is that good at what he does on the field.

Baltimore has made some big moves this offseason and is a team that is on everyone’s radar when we talk about favorites to win the AFC. But when an elite player says it is a year-long process to return to full health after surgery, we have to question his status for the regular season—and the impact that could be lost.

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