This is an easy week to glorify quarterbacks after an NFL-record four of them topped the 400-passing yards mark to start the season, including the 517 from New England's Tom Brady(notes) on Monday night.
However, it would be an awful oversight to not take a few hundred words to glorify Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed(notes), who might be the best ever when it comes to taking the ball from those great throwers. Yes, best ever. Better than Paul Krause and his 81 picks or Emlen Tunnell and his 79. Better than Rod Woodson and his 71 from two different positions.
On Sunday against Pittsburgh, Reed led the way for the Ravens with two interceptions against Ben Roethlisberger(notes). Reed came within a diving drop of getting a third pick, but still finished with multiple interceptions for the 12th time in his career. That's the most of any player since the start of the Super Bowl era, breaking a tie with Ronnie Lott. Reed has 56 picks in his career and moved into a tie for 16th with Lem Barney and Pat Fischer on the all-time list. By the end of the season, Reed has a chance to move way up. There's currently a five-way tie for the next spot at 57 and Emmitt Thomas is 10th with 58. After that, it jumps to Dick LeBeau and Dave Brown with 62 each and Lott and Darren Sharper(notes) at 63.
But the raw numbers only begin to tell the story. Understand that Reed has gotten there faster than just about anyone, getting those interceptions in only 129 regular-season games. That is the fewest of all but one (Bobby Boyd) of the 18 players with 56 or more. Barney played in 140 games, Johnny Robinson (57 interceptions) played in 164 and Tunnell played in 167.
Others took a lot longer to compile their impressive pick total. Krause, for instance, played in 226 games and Woodson played in 238. Eugene Robinson, who is among those just ahead of Reed with 57 picks, played in nearly twice as many games (250) as the Baltimore safety.
Furthermore, Reed is playing at a time when it's harder than ever to get an interception. While the NFL is much more of a passing league, a big reason is that throwing is safer than ever.
In 1960, when Tunnell was playing his second-to-last season, the NFL averaged one interception every 15 throws (there were 274 interceptions on 4,114 attempts for the season). By 2010, that rate dropped to one interception every 33.8 throws (511 interceptions in 17,269 attempts). The reasons are ample, from the greater use of spread formations and short passing to the improvement in quarterback play. Bottom line, getting a pick takes much greater skill today than ever.
"What distinguishes Ed is that I think he understands concepts and reads quarterbacks better than just about anyone," said former NFL quarterback and current NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner(notes), who played one full game against Reed and Baltimore in his career in 2007. "Even when I knew where I was going to throw, I had to always use my eyes &helip; give a little extra to Ed to make sure he didn't anticipate where I was going."
Warner also talked about Reed's ability to jump routes faster than most others. Fellow former quarterback Chad Pennington(notes) got a taste of that in the 2008 playoffs when Reed nabbed two of his throws in a victory over Miami. The second was a lightning-fast move by Reed across the face of the defense in the red zone.
"He shut the window like this," Pennington said as he snapped his fingers. "It was like he was running the route, not the receiver. When somebody gets on top of a route that fast, you really shake your head and say, ‘How did he do that?' "
Commitment to mediocrity
Memo to Denver Broncos coach John Fox: Do yourself a favor and don't pretend that your 23-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders was proof that your way of managing games will work in the long run. Fox is a master of manipulating games to keep the score down and then winning more often than not by pulling out a play or two at the end. Another coach who did this well was Dan Reeves, particularly during his time as head coach in Denver with quarterback John Elway. It's basically a way of playing percentages that the other team will screw up more than your team. While it has helped each coach reach Super Bowls, neither has captured the Lombardi Trophy.
The big problem in Fox's case is that he falls in love with mediocre quarterbacks, first Jake Delhomme(notes) and now Kyle Orton(notes). On Monday night, Orton was his usual mix of just enough good sprinkled with a lot of inadequacy. Orton made the game close at the end with one nice drive as Denver fans were chanting "Tebow, Tebow." The reality is that Orton doesn't read the field fast enough or consistent enough to be an elite quarterback. Beyond that, his ability to make plays when the pocket breaks down plummets faster than political approval ratings in an economic crisis. The only reason the loss to Oakland was close is that the Raiders have Jason Campbell(notes) at quarterback and committed a million silly penalties. Here's hoping that Fox realizes that sooner than later.
With Michael Vick(notes) headed back to Atlanta on Sunday night, there will be the usual handwringing about whether he should have been let go by the Falcons and whether he got punished excessively for his crimes. Blah, blah, blah. Put the arguments on an endless loop. What's done is done. However, the episode taught Falcons owner Arthur Blank an important lesson about how to run a football team. While Blank remains an attentive owner intent on doing whatever is necessary to build a winner, he has backed off in significant ways. Mostly, Blank has learned that his direct contact with Vick ultimately undermined the authority of other people who worked with Vick on a day-to-day basis. Harsh lesson for all, to be sure, but at least Blank doesn't hang around his players constantly and give news conferences after every game in the locker room.
1. Green Bay Packers (1-0): Aaron Rodgers(notes) has two more weapons (Jermichael Finley(notes) back from injury and rookie Randall Cobb(notes))? That's just not fair.
2. New England Patriots (1-0): Scariest thing about Monday night: The Patriots were in better condition than the Dolphins … in Miami.
3. Baltimore Ravens (1-0): They made Ben Roethlisberger look like he was back in high school. Really impressive.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0): Not the prettiest win and the big concern is whether Vick will get any pass blocking.
5. Chicago Bears (1-0): How is it possible that 33-year-old LB Brian Urlacher(notes) is still playing the way he did when he was 26?
28. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1): Take it easy, Steelers fans – you're not staying here. But based on one week, your team deserves it.
29. Minnesota Vikings (0-1): If QB Donovan McNabb(notes) continues to play like that, the Vikings might as well let Christian Ponder(notes) play poorly.
30. Kansas City Chiefs (0-1): Losing to the Bills wasn't nearly as bad as losing star safety Eric Berry(notes) for the season. Rough year ahead for Chiefs.
31. Cleveland Browns (0-1): Really, you lost to Cincinnati? You prevented me from putting the Bengals in this section? I'm so mad.
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-1): I don't expect the Colts to end up here, but they might not be that much higher when it's over.
This and that
• While Dallas quarterback Tony Romo(notes) is taking a fair share of criticism for his blunders that cost the Cowboys a victory over the New York Jets, the truth is that Romo did Mark Sanchez(notes) a big favor. If not for Romo's blunders, more people might be publicly questioning when Sanchez is going to stop making the same types of mistakes for which Romo is getting ripped. Sanchez's inability to see the second defender on passing routes, such as on the interception he threw to linebacker Sean Lee(notes), is downright mystifying, according to one scout: "That's a standard coverage and Lee didn't even try to disguise it, he just jumped the route. … I don't know what it is with Sanchez, but he doesn't read stuff over the middle very well. He's not Vince Young(notes)-bad that way, but he's really poor at it. … Sometimes he locks on his target [like the near-interception in the fourth quarter], but most of the time you walk away wondering how he didn't expect that coverage."
• What's the biggest game of the week? There are three good ones with Chicago visiting New Orleans (the Saints need to avoid a 0-2 start), the aforementioned Philly at Atlanta game (Matt Ryan(notes), are you feeling some heat?) and San Diego at New England. The Chargers at Patriots is the topper for a couple of reasons. First, hosting a playoff game could come down to which of these two division favorites wins this contest. Second, the game is huge for the Chargers, specifically coach Norv Turner and quarterback Philip Rivers(notes). This is the fifth matchup of the Pats and Chargers since Turner took over in 2007. In the previous four, the only Chargers win was in 2008, when New England was without Tom Brady. Last season, the Chargers and Turner got close with a 23-20 loss at home. Moreover, New England has created havoc on the Chargers over the past five years, starting with the memorable playoff win over the Chargers in 2006 that led to the dismissal of coach Marty Schottenheimer.
• Perhaps when Eli Manning(notes) was comparing himself to Brady a few weeks ago, he was referring to how both he and Brady would have batted passes go for interceptions in the first week of the season. After that, the comparison was just a little short.
• By now, it's well known that ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski let a four-letter word slip with 7:32 remaining in the New England-Miami game. After an incomplete pass by Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne(notes), Jaworski said: "That's one Chad would love to have back. He knew he had the one-on-one matchup going down the right sideline. [Expletive], you have to get rid of this ball just a split second quicker." No biggie, Jaworski apologized and he obviously was just too comfortable in the moment. Interestingly enough, it was Jaworski, and not analyst partner Jon Gruden, who let one slip.
• Speaking of Gruden, he picked up right where he left off last season when he started raving about how great players were playing, even when they were overwhelming mediocre. The latest example came when Gruden talked about how great Reggie Bush(notes) of the Dolphins was running between the tackles. Just as Gruden stopped frothing, Bush's stats flashed on the screen: 11 carries, 38 yards.
• On the subject of the Saints, here's a pet peeve of mine in the aftermath of the final play in the loss to the Packers. Second-guessing the decision by New Orleans coach Sean Payton to call a running play at the 1-yard line at the end of the loss is a classic case of flawed logic. The call by Payton was fine. In fact, the very reason the Saints drafted running back Mark Ingram(notes) in the first round this year was to have a short-yardage runner. If you're going to make that commitment, you better follow through on it, at least until it's proven that it doesn't work. Getting shy in the first game would have been stupid. The problem with the play was the execution. Green Bay's defensive line simply did a better job of getting leverage, making it impossible for Ingram to get upfield once he hit the hole. Tip your cap to the Packers and leave the seconding-guess alone.
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- Emlen Tunnell