Browns vs. Ravens: What a Healthy Ed Reed Means for the Baltimore Defense

Zachary Arthur@Zach_ArthurSLCCorrespondent IISeptember 27, 2012

Ed Reed and the football have a special connection.
Ed Reed and the football have a special connection.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Thursday night's matchup between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens will give people an opportunity to see what Ed Reed's presence at safety means for the Ravens defense.

It would be easy to write off Cleveland in this one without even thinking twice. They are off to their fourth 0-3 start in the last five years and appear to be just another bad Browns team on the road to a top-five draft pick.

Not so fast.

Cleveland might look like an unorganized team, but that unorganized team has loads of potential. All three of their losses have been by 10 points or less, including an impressive one-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in their season opener.

Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden have certainly struggled, but they've also shown flashes of solid play. After playing so poorly against the Eagles, both players had great games against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.

The Cleveland defense has given up quite a few yards but has also displayed its playmaking ability, forcing seven turnovers on the year.

So should the Ravens be worried about possibly losing this one?

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Ravens should feel more than comfortable about this game, and it's all because of how well they're playing.

The offense has put up 98 points in three games and doesn't look to be slowing down. Firing on all cylinders when you have the ball is nice, but the real key for the Ravens is that their defense is back to being dominant.

Giving up 30 points to the New England Patriots isn't as bad as it sounds because of the kind of offense that they faced. It's been the only time this year where the defense has struggled to keep up, but they still ended up winning that game.

Defensively, the Ravens are right where they should be.

Ed Reed and his health are the reasons why.


His Legacy

It's safe to assume that Reed's career will be wrapping up within the next few years. He's a 34-year-old safety in a league that is only getting faster and stronger.

He's been considered among the best safeties in the NFL since his rookie season, and looking at his stats is enough to understand why.

To date, he has 59 career interceptions and has taken seven of them back for touchdowns. He managed to do all of that on one of the greatest defenses of all time.

Incredible stats are great and all, but the amazing part about Reed is how he has transformed his game over the years.

Reed spent the first five seasons of his career as a hard-hitting safety that would run away with any ball thrown his way. Big hits and big plays were what defined him as a player.

The 2007 season came along, and he began sustaining minor injuries that had potentially large side effects. That included injuries to places like the back, head, hips and neck.

His shift came in 2008, as people began to see how he changed the way he played. All of the sudden, he went from a hard-hitting safety to a coverage-focused player, and the results were blatant.

That year, he tied his career high with nine interception but only had 41 tackles in 16 healthy games.

Reed managed to limit his risk of injury while keeping his productivity high, a feat that many players wish they would have done before their careers came to a close.

He brought up the idea of retiring during this past offseason, so 2012 could possibly be his last season in the league.

Regardless of whether he plays another year or not, Ed Reed is in top form this season and will be looked at as one of the greatest safeties of all time.


How Important is it for Ed Reed to be Healthy?

In 2010, Reed only managed to play in the last 10 games of the season after suffering a hip injury. Barely playing more than half of the season would lead you to believe that it was a less-than-stellar year, but that wasn't the case at all.

He finished the year with eight interceptions, the third-highest season total in his career.

The team went 4-2 in his absence. They went 8-2 when he played.

2005 and 2009 were also injury-plagued seasons, and Reed missed ten combined games. His production took a serious hit, as he combined for only four interceptions in the 22 games that he played.

Clearly not up to Ed Reed's standards.

A healthy Reed is obviously the best option for the Ravens.

When it comes to Thursday night's game against the Browns, Reed's play will be a key for Baltimore's defense.

Plus, knowing how Reed plays, he must be truly licking his chops for this one.

Weeden has shown everybody that he has a habit of throwing the ball to the other team. There's no way he feels good knowing that he has Reed across the field waiting for him to make that one poor pass.

Reed's presence alone will force the Browns to game-plan around him. Once that takes place, the Ravens defense should have a field day focusing on shutting down the Browns' running attack.

Over time, Baltimore's offense will put points on the board, giving Cleveland one option: to throw the ball.

This is where Reed comes in.

Don't expect to hear much of Reed until the second half, when the Browns are forced into trying to put points on the board in a hurry.

It wouldn't be too crazy to see Weeden try and fit a few throws down the field toward the player that they had to game-plan against.

Reed should have two or three opportunities to make a play on the ball, and chances are pretty high that he'll come through with an interception on at least one of them.