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Opponent Spotlight: S Ed Reed

Folks in the Baltimore media are calling him Superman.

Maybe he is.

What he isn't, though, is the same self-promoter that more vocally prominent members of the Ravens defense are. Mostly because of that, Baltimore's multi-faceted free safety Ed Reed isn't as consistently recognized for being the future Hall of Fame player he should be.

Reed_mediumA neck injury has kept him away from the line of scrimmage this season, and other injuries last year have made Reed use his talents more often in the deep secondary. He's responded with 25 passes defensed in his last 29 games, and 12 interceptions. He has four in the Ravens past three games - all wins.

Going into arguably the biggest Steelers/Ravens game since they met in the playoffs after the 2001 season, Reed's presence alone is enough to give the Steelers offense indigestion.


Baltimore is the league's second-best run defense (behind Pittsburgh), and the Steelers haven't run the ball well this year. The shock of the game would be Pittsburgh cranking out 100 or more yards on the ground. While the Steelers have been able to connect on a deep pass a few more times recently than in a rough stretch over the middle of the year, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see Reed gamble more and move into passing lanes down the seam.

Point of note, it's a tactic the New England Patriots employed on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger in the past, not including this season.

Reed is disruptive enough of a player that the chess match of Baltimore's defense vs. Pittsburgh's offense is going to be decided by his ability to disguise his coverage. If he can get inside Roethlisberger's head, and his receivers - Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington in particular - aren't on the same page with him, Reed can cause multiple turnovers that would be the determining factor in a Ravens victory.

He causes the Steelers to account for him on each play. Considering how much pressure the Ravens' front seven force, it's difficult for the Steelers to utilize a 4-WR set, or a 3-WR formation with a tight end releasing down the seam to force Reed's hand. The Steelers will have to occupy Reed's attention with only three receivers of any combination down the field.

One way they could accomplish this would be to use RB Mewelde Moore in the flat to try to exploit any coverage from a Ravens linebacker. The "dink and dunk" game isn't pretty, but a short, rhythmic passing game may be the Steelers best chance to crack open Baltimore's defense for big plays. In Week 11, the New York Giants tried this sort of strategy, and while they didn't get huge production from Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw or Derrick Ward, all three of them cracked off a big rush - Bradshaw had one for 77 yards, Jacobs for 36 and Ward for 22.

Either way, attacking the Ravens' flank requires patience, and a defense that will help keep Pittsburgh's offense on the field. The Steelers have the defensive playmakers to ensure that happens, but their offense must keep the chains moving against easily their toughest defensive opponent this season