Impact Safeties Anchoring Defenses

The Ravens and Steelers know how important it is to keep Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu on the field.

Posted by Mike Duffy on Saturday, December 4th, 2010 at 9:58 am | Categories: 2010 Season, Mike Duffy, Week 13 vs Steelers

The Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers boast the two most electrifying safeties in football with Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, and Sunday will mark the first time they’ve been on the same field since the 2008 AFC Championship.

Judging by how each team’s defense played with and without their Pro Bowl ball-hawks, their impact cannot be understated.

“Do you see how [the Steelers] play when they don’t have their safety? It’s two different teams, isn’t it?” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs asked reporters on Wednesday.  “It’s kind of the same way with us. It’s always good to have your All-Pro safety with you, a guy that can cover both sides of the field, and he’s making plays even when he’s not supposed to be somewhere.

“So, when you’ve got a guy like that, he’s like American Express: He’s everywhere you want to be.”

The statistics prove Suggs’ assessment correct.

The Steelers missed Polamalu for 11 games last year after he suffered a nagging knee injury in their season opener.  Without Polamalu, Pittsburgh went 5-6, and an annually-dominant defense took a step back.

Polamalu didn’t play after Week 11.  Up until the week he left, the Steelers were the NFL’s fourth-stingiest defense, allowing only 297.6 yards per game.

From the time when Polamalu was shelved to the end of the season, Pittsburgh dropped to the 20th unit in the NFL by giving 360.1 yards during that span.

“Troy is the one X-factor,” said former New England Patriots safety and NBC analyst Rodney Harrison on a conference call.   “As much as you try to account for him, you can really never prepare for him because he has such freedom on the defensive side.  This is a totally different defense without Troy Polamalu. I think we saw that last year when he got injured.  There are so many things that he brings.

“It’s the equivalent of an offense not having their star quarterback. That’s what they miss when they don’t have Troy Polamalu.

Similarly, the Ravens went through a six-week stretch without Reed this year, as he rehabilitated his surgically-repaired hip.

Still, Baltimore’s defense and the team’s overall record withstood the blow of missing their All-Pro safety.

The Ravens defense never dropped below a third ranking, but their turnovers were sorely lacking. By the time Reed came back, the Ravens were 4-2 with a -4 turnover ratio (26th).

Insert Reed, and Baltimore is +2 in turnover ratio with seven interceptions through five games.  Reed owns four of them.

“I don’t know if it’s a confidence factor that is instilled in their teammates, or that those guys are such takeaway machines, but that’s what makes these defenses able to take the ball away,” said former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach and fellow NBC analyst Tony Dungy.

After battling without their game-changers, the Ravens and Steelers are thankful to have welcomed them back.

Polamalu has been sitting out recent practices – including Wednesday’s session – with a sore ankle, but he’s still making plays at a high level.

Last week against the Buffalo Bills, Polamalu recorded a rally-stopping interception in the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills.  In the past two games, he’s accounted for three turnovers by himself.

Reed has been healthy for the most part and keeping off the injury report, but he still participates in heavy stretching sessions to stay that way.

Both AFC North rivals know how important their safeties are.  Their instincts, hitting ability, knowledge and leadership are unmatched.

The Ravens and Steelers might be able to get it done without Reed and Polamalu, but there is always going to be a sigh of relief when Nos. 20 and 46 are out there for their side.

“Losing a guy like Ed Reed is taking a weapon out of our arsenal, so since he’s been back, it’s been huge,” said Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson.   “They’re a little bit different. You see Troy play around the line of scrimmage a little more than Ed does, but as far as how they disguise, the way they hit, it’s very similar.

“They’re huge parts of everything their teams do.”

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