No deep impact

Teams are throwing away from Ravens' Reed, limiting his ability to force turnovers

October 07, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

It seems like old times for the defense.

The Ravens are swarming running backs. They are sacking the quarterback again. They're even back atop the NFL defensive rankings, sitting at No. 2 in the league.

There's only one missing piece: safety Ed Reed. The disappearance of the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year has been one of the biggest surprises of the season.

In his first three seasons, Reed built a reputation for impacting games, whether forcing fumbles on a blitz or returning interceptions for touchdowns. In three games this season, he has gone from a playmaker to a spectator, breaking up one pass and recording no turnovers.

Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said it's a reflection of changes made in the offenses and not in Reed.

"It's got to be frustrating for Ed," Ryan said. "Everybody is saying, `Why isn't Ed Reed getting an interception?' Why don't you ask the teams we're up against? Clearly, if you don't throw the ball down the field, two things aren't going to happen: You're not going to give up any big plays, but you're not going to make them either."

Ryan said teams have blatantly avoided throwing deep down the middle of the field, where Reed generally patrols.

When offenses throw over the middle, it's either a quick slant or a pass just in front of the linebackers. When they throw deep, it's somewhere along the sidelines.

The Ravens have allowed just five receptions of more than 25 yards, including three by the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning in the season opener. As a result, they are giving up 5.9 yards per pass attempt, which is fifth best in the NFL.

"I'm sure they are probably looking out for me, but at the same time, you just have to play the game," Reed said. "The ball is going to come to me sooner or later, and when it does, they're going to pay for it."

In his first 48 games of his career, Reed made teams pay handsomely. The two-time Pro Bowl selection broke up 49 passes, recorded 21 interceptions, forced three fumbles and scored six touchdowns (two on interceptions, one on a fumble recovery and three on blocked punts).

Since 1970, only former Dallas Cowboy Everson Walls picked off more passes in his first three seasons than Reed.

"I love the challenge of making a play," Reed said. "I have seen plays [on film] that I think I could have made. I just need to attack the ball a little more. I think those plays are going to come."

Reed became the first safety to win the Defensive Player of the Year award since the Seattle Seahawks' Kenny Easley in 1984.

There had been talk all offseason about the Ravens rewarding Reed with a contract extension. He is making $581,250 this season and is scheduled to earn $2.1 million in the final year of his deal.

Waiting for a new contract has not affected his play, according to Reed.

"That's neither here nor there," Reed said. "I can't focus on money because it could cause a distraction."

The Ravens estimated that they blitzed Reed more last season but the difference hasn't been drastic. They also said any changes to the defense this season have not altered Reed's responsibilities.

His drought could end Sunday against Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington, who has five interceptions in three games this season and 55 in his 49-game career.

"We are not disappointed in Ed Reed," Ryan said. "We are disappointed in the fact that we haven't gotten take-aways. Ed is still the best safety in football and one of the best players in football."

With Reed not delivering as he has done in the past, the Ravens have struggled to create turnovers. They have the second-fewest take-aways in the NFL with one. Only one other team - the Houston Texans - has not made an interception this season.

"We're in a turnover slump," Ryan said. "Once we get the first one, we're going to be rolling. I truly believe that."

Nickel back Deion Sanders disagrees with that theory.

"I don't believe turnovers come in bunches," Sanders said. "When I was a baseball player, they told me the hits would come, and I'm still waiting on those."

Last season, the Ravens had the seventh-most take-aways in the league with 34, an average of more than two a game.

That's why leaving two of their first three games empty-handed was so unexpected. Since 2000, the Ravens have caused at least one turnover in 66 of 80 games (82.5 percent).

This remains the one problem for a Ravens defense that has given up 36 points in three games and has limited teams to an average of 260.7 yards.

"We know that's what is separating us right now," Ryan said of the lack of turnovers. "As soon as we do that, our team can take it to a different level."

Notes -- Fullback Alan Ricard, who is questionable with a calf injury, did not practice. Tight end Todd Heap returned to practice after missing Wednesday with an illness. ... Quarterback Kyle Boller, who is still wearing a walking boot to protect his hyperextended right big toe, threw lightly at the start of practice. ... Linebacker Dan Cody, the team's second-round draft pick, had reconstructive surgery on his right knee last week. He severely sprained it on the first day of training camp and was later placed on injured reserve, which ended his season.jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Ravens@Lions Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Lions by 1 1/2

Downturn

Entering Week 5, the Ravens have forced the second-fewest take-aways in the NFL:

Team G Int. Fum. Tot.

Texans 3 0 0 0

Ravens 3 0 1 1

Packers 4 1 1 2

Redskins 3 1 1 2

Patriots 4 1 2 3

Seahawks 4 2 1 3

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