Arguing a Titan's case for NFL honors on defense

January 08, 2009|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

It has made for some spicy debate, whether Ed Reed was snubbed by the national media for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. A strong case can be made for the Ravens safety, as can one for each of the players (James Harrison and DeMarcus Ware) who finished ahead of him.

Conduct the vote at any time before Week 15, however, and the player who finished right behind Reed has the strongest case of them all. That player is the Tennessee Titans' Albert Haynesworth, and Saturday he might have more to say about where Reed and the Ravens go in the playoffs than anyone else.

Week 15 is when Haynesworth sprained his knee in a surprise loss to the Houston Texans. He did not play in the Titans' final two games, got a bye week to rest it more, returned to practice this week and then told reporters in Tennessee this about facing the Ravens' Joe Flacco: "We have to make him uncomfortable and make him realize that he is not welcome in our stadium and knock him down as many times as we possibly can."

No, neither he nor the Titans sacked Flacco in their October regular-season meeting. They did hit him plenty, intercepted him twice, and held the Ravens to 10 points, so convince yourself he can't do what he says at your own risk. Just as Kerry Collins has to know where Reed is before every snap, Flacco would do well to identify Haynesworth whenever he breaks the huddle.

"Disruptive" applies to Reed and Haynesworth equally - but it fit Reed best at season's end, when he picked off four of his nine interceptions in the final two regular-season games. Before that? Haynesworth, 6 feet 6, 320 pounds, almost had a copyright on it. Collins, his teammate; his coach, Jeff Fisher, the opposing coach, John Harbaugh; and every Raven asked about him called Haynesworth "disruptive."

In fact, his play took him beyond mere defensive award consideration and put him - or should have - into the Most Valuable Player discussion. Of course, defensive tackles tend not to win that, particularly ones who once were suspended for stomping an opponent's head. More on that later.

"He has a complete game. He rushes the passer well and he stops the run as well," one of the Ravens' linemen said. "You have to double-team him all the time. You see him on film all the time. You know he's going to make the play every time." The lineman who said that doesn't even face him - it was defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, as good as it gets at his position but who yearns to glean more knowledge from watching the master.

"He can dictate and dominate and affect protections and crowds the pocket," Fisher said, adding that he was sure Haynesworth would have been in the Player of the Year discussion were it not for the injury.

Even with those absences at the end, this was the culmination of a steady seven-year rise to greatness. Between doubts about his every-down intensity and anger issues that manifested themselves in the infamous 2006 cleat attack on helmet-less Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode, such a breakout season seemed like a tease.

"He was always good. You always knew whenever he concentrated on things, didn't have issues with something, he was going to be great," said Samari Rolle, his Titans teammate for three seasons. "He's much better now. He plays hard ... "

With results that made him a candidate for the award neither he nor Reed won. The one Haynesworth might have taken in a landslide, over Reed and everybody else, before Week 15.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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