Out of all the positions in football, it’s the safety whose DNA matches his coach’s the most. The name of the position screams risk aversion, a trait that is ingrained into the minds of coaches who always fear one mistake could cost them their career. Mistakes are avoided by using a proper approach, which for a safety is to play with discipline and, like coaches, only attack when given the green light. And also like coaches, safeties stand on their heels when pressured.
But when it comes to Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, there is no approach. He might be the only safety in the NFL history who scares the daylights out of the opposing coaches and his own – just ask Brian Billick. This is because of his reckless play, which, to be fair, is only considered reckless because it’s not the norm.
The norm for Reed is to guess on throws and routes, and to track the ball before and during its flight regardless of his responsibilities. If any other safety did this, they would be out of a job. Yet Reed has 61 career interceptions, a record 1,541 interception return yards, and a sculpture of his grizzly face waiting to be carved out for a place in the Hall of Fame.
Reed’s combination of instincts and range is arguably the best the league has ever seen at his position. He’s always around the football, and it seems that the football always ends up in his hands for a game-breaking turnover. His range is otherworldly, as he unfathomably covers a seemingly impossible amount of ground. And he’s the master at baiting quarterbacks into highly questionable throws, which is how he reeled in his last interception that came in Week 13 against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers.
He was the lone safety in the middle of the field of what would become a Cover 3 (four under, three deep) concept. The Ravens faced a Trips Right formation from the Steelers, which made Reed align in between the two pass-catchers closest to the formation. Their routes — a converted option route ran by the No. 3 and a vertical route by the No. 2 — were designed to put Reed in conflict and ultimately beat him.
When the No. 3 receiver ran 12 yards down the field, he made a quick incision inside to sit down in between the two inside linebackers in zone coverage. This prompted Reed to take a couple of lateral steps inside, but not far enough inside that he couldn’t get to the vertical route, even though his hips suggested otherwise.
While watching quarterback Charlie Batch, Reed took a couple of more steps laterally because of the quarterback’s misleading eyes. Batch’s goal was to freeze the safety just enough inside to throw the vertical route into the back of the end zone. He thought he froze Reed, but the veteran safety was baiting him all the way.
Batch shifted his eyes deep and launched the football. It sailed, looking like it was going to come up short before Reed planted his right foot, opened his hips up to his left, and raised sky-high to catch the football in the end zone.
When Reed fell seven yards deep into the end zone, his instincts immediately kicked in. He quickly got up and ran to his right, where he broke two tackles at the one and two-yard lines prior to returning the ball to the Ravens’ 27-yard line, where he was tackled by an offensive lineman after breaking an additional two tackles.
The interception was vintage Reed, who will be looking to make another big play in his first Super Bowl. While most of the attention has been geared toward his teammate Ray Lewis, Reed is the one who’s more valuable to the Ravens.
Unlike Lewis, Reed is still a very good player who offers an incredible amount of flexibility to the defense because of his range and instincts. He can still cover ground like no one else, and bait quarterbacks into poor throws that result in game-changing interceptions.
Maybe Colin Kaepernick will be the next one to make that mistake.