Steelers won't miss Ravens' Reed

Saturday, October 02, 2010
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
Baltimore safety Ed Reed has 46 career interceptions.

Make no mistake, the Steelers are not feeling any empathy for the Baltimore Ravens, who are playing the first six games of the regular season without their big-play Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed.

But, just as certain, they surely know how the Ravens must feel.

The Steelers had to do the same thing last season when Troy Polamalu, their big-play safety, missed 11 games with two separate knee injuries. When Polamalu played, he was spectacular, making diving interceptions and highlight-reel tackles, just as he has done in three games this season.

But, without him, the season went into free fall because the defense could not protect leads or prevent big plays. His absence, coupled with the loss of defensive end Aaron Smith, was largely responsible for a five-game losing streak that cost the Steelers a postseason appearance.

"It's a big hit for them," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "It's nice not to go against him."

Arians once called Reed "the best safety in the NFL," a comment he said got him in trouble because it upset some of Polamalu's teammates. Since then, he has backed off any such comparisons between Reed and Polamalu, even if he has not backed away from extolling Reed's talents, which are considerable.

Since 2002, no active player in the NFL has as many interceptions as Reed (46). But Reed does not just pick them, he returns them -- a long way, too. His interception return average of 27.3 yards is the best in NFL history for players with 30 or more career interceptions.

It is one of the reasons Reed has a club-record eight defensive touchdowns -- six interception returns, two fumble returns -- in his career.

"Ed is their guy back there," said quarterback Charlie Batch, who will make his second start in a row after throwing three first-half touchdowns in the 38-13 victory Sunday in Tampa, Fla. "He's kind of what Troy is to us back there. He gambles and, if he sees something, he's going to make a move."

Reed has not fully recovered from offseason hip surgery and will not play against the Steelers (3-0) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field.

He is on the team's physically-unable-to-perform list, meaning he cannot play the first six games of the regular season.

The loss of the six-time Pro Bowl player coupled with a season-ending injury to cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who led the team with four interceptions and 21 passes defensed in 2009, has put a dent in the quality of the Ravens' secondary.

The injuries have forced them to use cornerback Chris Carr, who had 10 career starts in five previous seasons, and safety Tom Zbikowski (four starts in two seasons) as replacements.

Not surprisingly, the Ravens do not have an interception in three games, one of three NFL teams that do not have a pick this season.

"It's huge," Arians said, talking about a secondary without Reed. "When you're throwing the ball down the field, you always had to know where Ed was, He'd pick off things from sideline to sideline, even if he was the backside safety. You always had to account for him with your eyes as the quarterbacks. These guys [who are replacing them] are good, but he's special. He and Troy are the only guys capable of doing what they do."

In Tampa, the Steelers knew they were going to attack the deep middle of the field because Buccaneers safety Tanard Jackson was not playing because of a one-year suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. They knew his replacement, Cody Grimm, could not run with Mike Wallace, their big-play receiver who averages 26.7 yards per catch.

Sure enough, Wallace got behind Grimm for a 46-yard touchdown in the first quarter and beat cornerback Aqib Talib for a 41-yard touchdown in the second, even though the ball bounced off Talib's hands in the end zone.

Nobody has to remind Arians that Reed is missing from the Ravens' secondary.

"I call him the Raptor because there's nobody that fast who can get where he gets as fast as he gets there," Arians said.

"I hope he gets back soon because the game misses guys like that."

NOTES -- G Trai Essex has not practiced all week and will not play against the Ravens. ... Ravens RB Ray Rice, who has a deep bone bruise, practiced this week and is expected to play at Heinz Field. Rice had 229 yards rushing and 81 yards receiving in two games against the Steelers in 2009.

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