Nov/05/14 08:28 AM Filed in: Ed Reed
When Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Markus Wheaton for a 47-yard touchdown Sunday in Pittsburgh's 43-23 win, it was yet another example of how teams continue to test the Baltimore Ravens with the deep pass.
This isn't just a recent occurrence. Quarterbacks have been looking for the big play against the Ravens ever since Ed Reed stopped patrolling their secondary. Call it the Reed aftereffect.
For all of the risk-taking and freelancing that Reed did, he struck fear in quarterbacks because of his ability to pick off passes and return them for touchdowns. But there has been no second-guessing for passers these days when throwing deep against the likes of Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Terrence Brooks or whoever else the Ravens line up in the back end.
• In Reed's 11 seasons, the Ravens allowed 19 completions (tied for the eighth-fewest) and eight touchdowns on passes that traveled at least 40 yards in the air.
• In 25 games without him, the Ravens have given up 12 such throws (most in the NFL in that span) and six touchdowns (tied for the most).
This isn't to suggest the Ravens should bring back Reed. He showed last season with Houston and the New York Jets that he's not close to being the same playmaker. There's little chance that Reed is going to make a James Harrison-type comeback.
But the Ravens do have to find some solution to stop the deep throws. This season against the Ravens, quarterbacks are 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) on passes of 40 yards or longer for a perfect passer rating (158.3).
And these big plays have come at critical times for the Ravens. There was the 77-yard winning touchdown catch by Bengals receiver A.J. Green in the season opener, and a 53-yard reception by Mohamed Sanu that set up the winning touchdown Oct. 26 in Cincinnati.
The Ravens have tried to find the right combination. Seven players have lined up at safety this season, and five have been on the field for at least 90 defensive snaps.
"The best players play, to me, and the best players are the players who are playing the best," coach John Harbaugh said. "When some player expresses himself as being the best player by how he plays, he’ll be out there permanently. Until that happens, nobody is given anything."
Elam and Stewart are strong safeties who play better when closer to the line of scrimmage. Brooks, a rookie third-round pick, is better in coverage but was inactive Sunday against the Steelers, a week after giving up that pass to Sanu. And Will Hill, who made his first start Sunday, hasn't made the immediate impact that some anticipated.
Harbaugh said his defensive backs aren't being as disciplined with their technique as they need to be. Their eyes aren't in the right spot. They've misplayed balls. They've missed tackles.
"We’re looking for the right combination, but I think that’s a little overrated," Harbaugh said. "I think it’s the best players. You want to play in that secondary? Step up and practice and play well and step up in the game and make plays and be in the right spot. And that’s what we’re looking for guys to do.”