NFL Power Rankings: Rating the Best Safety Tandems of 2011

Eitan Katz@@EitanKatzAnalyst IIJuly 15, 2011

NFL Power Rankings: Rating the Best Safety Tandems of 2011

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    We all know Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed are two of the greatest safeties of all time, but they don't do it alone.

    Do you know Ryan Clark? How about Dawan Landry?

    They may not be as famous as those first two guys, but the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens couldn't function without them.

    You know the saying, "Behind every powerful man is a great woman?" Well, a similar logic applies here.

    Polamalu and Reed are two of the most dynamic defensive players in NFL history, and while their play certainly speaks for itself, they are a part of a team.

    They aren't only part of their respective teams, they are part of a two-person team in the defensive backfield.

    We call them, "safeties."

    Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are partners in crime. Ed Reed and Dawan Landry are a cohesive unit. This isn't baseball, there isn't one player going up to the plate. These guys are brothers.

    Here are your top safety tandems of 2011.

    *I will be including players who are currently free agents (Dawan Landry) as a part of their former team.

    *Third-down rate or third-down percentage is referring to the percentage that defenses allow offenses to gain first downs on ALL third-down plays.

    Example: Patriots allow four first downs on eight third-down attempts, that is a 50 percent third-down rate. That is also terrible!

    Thanks for reading! Leave your comments in the section below. Don't be afraid, let me know what you think!

10. Tennessee Titans, Michael Griffin and Chris Hope

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    The Tennessee Titans were an average defense in 2010.

    They allowed 22.2 PPG, and their third-down rate was an awful 43 percent, tied for second worst in the NFL.

    On the other hand, they did have 40 sacks, tied for eighth place with the highly regarded New York Jets defense.

    So if the defense was only decent, why are Griffin and Hope rated 10th?

    Because they were tackling machines.

    Taking a cue from middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who came in second place in the NFL with 111 solo tackles, the two safeties combined for 173 of their own solo tackles. They were ranked fourth and fifth among safeties in tackling.

    But that's not all.

    While Chris Hope is a solid player, Michael Griffin has really elevated after a down year in 2009. Griffin intercepted a ridiculous seven passes in 2008, his sophomore season but only managed one last year.

    This past season, he got back to work, catching four interceptions and forcing two fumbles.

    With the potential loss of Tulloch to free agency, Griffin and Hope are going to have to step up big again in 2011.

9. New England Patriots, Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung/James Sanders

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    Somehow, someway, Brandon Meriweather has made the Pro Bowl in the past two seasons.

    Listen, I'm a Patriots fan, and even I think it is ridiculous. Do people who vote for the Pro Bowl even watch the games? He takes terrible angles to the ball, and he misses way too many tackles.

    So why is he part of a unit ranked No. 9?

    Because together, Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders and Patrick Chung were very good for New England last year.

    Chung had 72 solo tackles in 13-and-a-half games. Meriweather had three picks. Sanders also had three interceptions, but his were against the Jets, Colts and Steelers.


    Devin McCourty, rookie phenom, joined the Pats last season and had a gigantic impact on the safeties situation. Unfortunately, New England also had Kyle Arrington (special teams ace) playing cornerback.

    That is not a recipe for success.

    Despite the ineffectiveness of every cornerback outside of McCourty, the Patriots' safeties played pretty damn well.

    Allowing only 19.6 PPG, the Pats defense finished a respectable eighth in the NFL. The close-your-eyes-and-hide statistic, though, is that the defense had a league worst 47 percent third-down rate.

    One word: unacceptable.

    Bill Belichick is a genius. Jerod Mayo is amazing. Vince Wilfork is a vending machine. Plus, you have these three.

    Meriweather must improve his tackling, Chung has to stay healthy, and Sanders has to remain a playmaker, but this group is actually one of the best in the NFL.

    I don't know if that says more about these three guys or how bad the quality of safeties there are in the league.

8. Arizona Cardinals, Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson

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    That's what I think of when I think of these two Arizona safeties.

    As a whole, Arizona's defense is atrocious, allowing 27.1 PPG. For those of you scoring at home, that puts them behind only Dallas and Denver for most points allowed per game. Not good.

    For their part, though, Rhodes and Wilson have been putting up some terrific numbers.

    I'll be honest, I don't watch a lot of Cardinals football, so forgive me if their numbers don't reflect their effectiveness. But, together, these two formed one of the best play-making tandems in the NFL.

    They had 154 solo tackles, three sacks, six interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and 21 passes defended.

    That's pretty impressive for a duo that had to clean up every single mess that Arizona's front seven created.

    The truth is, the Cardinals are a pretty good playmaking defense, with 17 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles. Problems arise, though, when they are trying to make the flashy play instead of the right play.

    Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson are both solid safeties, but their talents are being wasted out in the Arizona desert.

7. New Orleans Saints, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins

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    The New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009 with Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins starting on defense.

    Except then, Jenkins was a cornerback.

    Darren Sharper ("one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league"), who was a total superstar that year, intercepted nine passes, including three returned for touchdowns. When Sharper was placed on the physically unable to perform list at the beginning of the 2010 season, Jenkins stepped up.

    An amazing cornerback at Ohio State University, Jenkins had the size to play safety, and he certainly had the hands, but could he even come close to filling the gigantic void that Sharper left behind?


    Jenkins did an admirable job last season, and at the tender age of 23, there is no reason to think that he won't continue to improve and eventually become a superstar.

    On the other side, we have Roman Harper.

    Harper, another hard-hitting safety, had a very good season last year despite the change of running mates (Sharper to Jenkins). Roman has what we call an "all-around game," totaling 76 solo tackles, three sacks, one interception and a staggering six forced fumbles.

    Those six forced fumbles are No. 1 among all defensive backs in the league.

    With these two patrolling center field, New Orleans placed seventh in PPG allowed (19.2) and tied for second in third-down rate (34 percent).

    Extremely impressive for a defense that lost its best defensive player before the season even started.

6. New York Jets, Jim Leonhard and Brodney Pool/Eric Smith

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    The New York Jets have only one safety signed for the upcoming NFL season, but he's a damn good one.

    Jim Leonhard is shockingly unappreciated by NFL fans.

    Again, I'm a Patriots fan, so this isn't easy for me to admit, but Leonhard might just be one of the top 10 safeties in the NFL right now. He just brings so much to the table.

    I beg you, don't look at his stats. Just look at this:

    First game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (with Jim Leonhard): Win, 28-14

    Second game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (without Jim Leonhard): Loss, 45-3

    Now, were there a lot of other factors involved? Yes. Did the Jets avenge that second loss without Leonhard with a 28-21 playoff victory (also without Leonhard)? Yes.

    But Leonhard got injured right before that second meeting. Just like when the Celtics lost Kendrick Perkins at the beginning of Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals, it sucked the life out of the team.

    There aren't many players in the NFL who would have as strong of an emotional affect on their team as Leonhard did that day.

    Leonhard is not only a superb safety, he's an extraordinary punt returner.

    As for Pool and Smith, they aren't too shabby either.

    On Brodney's Rotoworld page, there is a fascinating statistic. Pool allowed zero touchdown passes in the second half of the season. For a guy who most people haven't even heard of, that is pretty nifty.

    Smith, despite Jets fans pleading for his release, did a solid job in relief of both Pool and Leonhard last season. His versatility should be enough for New York to resign him this offseason.

5. Philadelphia Eagles, Quintin Mikell and Nate Allen

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    This is what I call a group effort: 119 total tackles, three sacks, six interceptions, one defensive touchdown, two forced fumbles and 23 passes defended.

    Those are Mikell's and Allen's combined stats from 2010. The catch? Nate Allen only played 13 games, and Quintin Mikell played in 15. Can you imagine their stats in a full season?

    Just stellar.

    Here is the problem, though. Mikell is destined to leave Philadelphia this offseason. He is a free agent, he's 30 years old and he is a hot commodity.

    After spending his first four seasons as a backup or special teamer, Mikell has proven consistent, durable (he's only missed three games in his last four seasons) and most importantly, effective.

    In fact, most would argue that he has gotten better as he's gotten older.

    For Allen, who was drafted in the second round of last year's NFL Draft, it's a matter of being healthy. When he was injured last season, Philly went 1-2. Whether that has anything to do with him is up to your discretion, but don't underestimate the loss of a starting safety, even if he is a rookie.

    This dynamic duo helped an excellent defensive effort from the Eagles' defensive backfield.

    As a team, Philly led the NFL in passes defended and were third in interceptions behind only Green Bay and New England.

    The Eagles better hope Jaiquawn Jarrett or Kurt Coleman can step up in Quintin's place. Otherwise, they are going to be in serious trouble trying to defend the pass-happy Packers, Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers.

4. Atlanta Falcons, Thomas DeCoud and William Moore

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    The Falcons defense gave up 18 PPG, fifth in the league and intercepted 22 passes, fourth in the league.

    DeCoud and Moore were a big part of that defense.

    Thomas is one of the more underrated safeties in the league. He is just entering his prime at the age of 26 and despite a slight statistical regression last season, should be in a good position to make a leap into the upper tier of safeties this year.

    William, who only played two games in his 2009 rookie season, burst on to the scene this year with five interceptions and 58 solo tackles. Also 26, expect him to join Thomas in making what NFL analysts call "the leap."

    "The leap" is basically a term used, not only in football but in many sports, as the jump a player makes from good to great.

    Atlanta surprised the football world last season with their 14-2 record, but it was all for naught as they were demolished by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Packers in the first round of the playoffs.

    This year, with the help of these two young studs, the Falcons defense and in turn, their playoff luck, should improve.

3. Green Bay Packers, Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah/Morgan Burnett

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    Super Bowl Champs.

    The Packers did it with defense (15 PPG allowed, second place) and offense (hello, Aaron Rodgers). These three guys, along with Green Bay's cornerbacks, though, are the reason they were so effective.

    Collins has been doing it for years. He has 21 interceptions and five defensive touchdowns in his career, with four picks and one touchdown coming last season. He's remarkably consistent and will rarely, if ever, blow a coverage.

    Peprah and Burnett are a different story.

    Charlie played in 14 games last season after Morgan went down for the season in Week 3. Peprah was solid, but unspectacular, accumulating 46 tackles and two interceptions. He made a key contribution in Super Bowl XLV, exploding for nine solo tackles, after totaling only eight in the other three playoff games.

    With the hottest quarterback in the league and a ferocious defense, Green Bay should be in the mix for another Super Bowl this season.

    If Morgan Burnett can stay healthy and contribute and Nick Collins can remain his stellar self, the Pack will once again have one of the top safety tandems in the league.

2. Baltimore Ravens, Ed Reed and Dawan Landry

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    This one is kind of unfair. Had Ed Reed been healthy all season, the Baltimore Ravens may have possessed the top safety duo on this list.

    Unfortunately, Reed started the season in Week 7. Fortunately, with super powers that only Ed is blessed with, the All-Pro safety nonchalantly picked off eight passes in only 10 games. With a full season, Ed probably could have had 12 or 14. Just unheard of numbers.

    Instead of me gushing about him, just watch this from NFL Network's top 100 players of 2010 (I apologize for the 15 second ad at the beginning!)


    Anyway, Reed doesn't do it alone.

    We all know about Samoan beast Haloti Ngata, and we obviously know of the machine that is Ray Lewis, but what about Dawan Landry?

    I can't say enough good things about the 28-year-old safety. Aside from his injury-riddled 2008 season, Landry has been a constant force alongside his superstar counterpart.

    Although his statistical consistency could be better (he had nine interceptions combined in his 2006 and 2009 seasons and zero in his other two seasons), he doesn't miss tackles, and he sometimes can play the role of disciplinarian, punishing receivers who dare cross his path.

    Dawan will probably leave via free agency this offseason, but it isn't because Baltimore doesn't want him. It's because he has terrific backups in Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. 

1. Pittsburgh Steelers, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark

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    The decision for the top spot was thisclose. It really is a preference of Polamalu over Reed on my part. And let me state my case.

    Reed is an amazing playmaker, and he can cover anyone in the league. He can intercept any pass, and he definitely makes his teammates better. No argument.

    But with Polamalu, you have the entire Steelers defense.

    Yes, they have the amazing (quote-machine) James Harrison, plus the other three fantastic linebackers, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior. But just look at the numbers without Polamalu:

    Last two seasons with TP43, 15-4.

    Last two seasons without TP43, 6-7.

    Awkward. "But I thought Pittsburgh was this totally amazing defense?" Well, yes and no.

    With Troy, they are one of the best defenses of the past 20 years. With Troy, they won two Super Bowls.

    Without him? Not so much.

    One final stat on Reed vs. Polamalu: Ed has four total playoff wins, Troy has 10.

    And let's not forget Ryan Clark's contributions. Even though Clark came into the league earlier, he and Troy both played their first full seasons in 2003. When Ryan finally teamed with TP43 and the Steelers in 2006, they knew they had a special partnership.

    They've been together so long that Clark says that they will sometimes switch roles before a play (according to USA Today).

    I believe that TP43 is going to be remembered as the best safety of this era, and maybe, ever. He has Ryan Clark, his partner in crime, to thank during his induction speech in Canton.

    For your viewing pleasure, Polamalu's NFL Top 100 clip. Phenomenal.

    Please, please, please let me know what you think! Does Kansas City with Eric Berry belong on this list? What about Antrel Rolle and the G-men?

    Thanks for reading!