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|11-24-2006, 07:38 AM||#1|
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Polamalu, Reed are new breed of safety
Polamalu, Reed are new breed of safety
Friday, November 24, 2006
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It is not the type of showdown that will attract the attention of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Larry Johnson, Chad Johnson vs. Steve Smith.
But, when the Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens (8-2) Sunday in M&T Bank Stadium, Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed will be on the same field, two All-Pros redefining how the safety position is played in the National Football League.
They are the best at what they do, even though their styles are different. At a size much smaller than other players, they control a defense, dominate a game, dictate to other quarterbacks what they can or cannot do on any given play.
They make big plays look ordinary and turn ordinary plays into big events. They are so good that, despite their many and, at times, varied talents, one team wouldn't think of trading one for the other.
"You throw the word unique around too often in this game and sometimes unjustifiably so," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But those two players are unique."
"One thing about both of these players, they're both very instinctive," coach Bill Cowher said. "They have great instincts and a great feel for the game. That's what separates them from other safeties."
Indeed, Polamalu and Reed are a breed apart, separated by a chasm from just about every other safety in the league.
Polamalu, a strong safety, has been a Pro Bowl selection in each of his first two years as a starter and was named All-Pro last season. Reed, a free safety, has been to the Pro Bowl every year except 2005, when injuries caused him to miss the final six games of the regular season. But he was the NFL's defensive player of the year in 2004 when he led the league with nine interceptions and set an NFL record with 358 return yards, which includes a 106-yard interception return.
Since 2002, Reed is second among active players with 24 interceptions. His 702 return yards are more than any other player and proof of his big-play ability.
"He's the best," Polamalu said. "He does everything great. He always does. He's truly in a league of his own."
Funny. The Steelers say the same about Polamalu.
He does not have as many interceptions as Reed -- Polamalu has 10 in his career, though he leads the team with three this season -- but he sometimes can impact the game more because he plays closer to the line of scrimmage, allowing him to influence run and pass plays.
His performance in the second half in the second half of the comeback victory in Cleveland last week, including a dominating three-play sequence in the fourth quarter, was vintage Polamalu. Afterward, linebacker Larry Foote said Polamalu "showed the little something extra he has inside him that the rest of us don't have."
"He uses his talent to the fullest," cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "You get a chance to watch him a little bit and see how he makes plays, and the effort he gives is unbelievable.
"I wouldn't say it's a level that a lot of people can't reach, but he's so passionate for the game. And his explosion is something you really can't teach that a lot of people don't have. The way he combines his skills and his passion and his explosiveness, you put all that together you have a heck of a ballplayer."
Funny, The Ravens say the same about Reed.
He has been an impact player since he was the 24th overall pick in the 2002 draft. He averaged 33.4 yards per return on five interceptions and also blocked two punts as a rookie. He followed that with seven picks and two more blocked punts in 2003 before being named the league's top defensive player in 2004.
"You're either born with it or you don't have it," said Steelers rookie defensive tackle Orien Harris, who played with Reed at the University of Miami. "They both drink some kind of water. I don't know what it is. I'm trying to get me some."
Reed is the ringleader of a Ravens defense that leads the league with 18 interceptions. He is one of four players with two interceptions, but he has such an explosive move to the ball that Cowher already issued a public warning to his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who has thrown 10 interceptions in the past four games.
"Ed Reed is a guy that, if [Roethlisberger] stares someone down, he will get there before the ball gets there."
"I think he's one of the true free-safety ballhawks," Polamalu said. "He seems to be comfortable in every situation. He makes plays. It's hard to do that."
Watch them on the field Sunday. See how Polamalu and Reed change the complexion of a game. Notice their greatness. Pay attention that, in a game that features defenders such as Casey Hampton and Joey Porter, Ray Lewis and Adalius Thomas, they are the most dominant players on the field.
"You might see unbelievable plays," McFadden said. "You might see Troy run backside and take a guy down and pop the ball out and you might see a guy like Ed Reed block a punt, pick it up and return it. Both of them have big-play abilities, and they have used it throughout their careers."
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