The exodus from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens this off-season has included two players who sailed off into the proverbial sunset that is retirement, two players who signed high-priced contracts with franchises who were non-playoff teams in 2012, one playoffs star who was traded for financial reasons, one long-time veteran who was released for financial reasons and, now, one long-time key cog of the defense who has signed on with an expected conference rival in 2013.
Ed Reed couldn’t have found a better team than the Houston Texans to finish his career with.
In many ways, the Texans and Ravens are very similar franchises. Both have relatively young histories and were division champions last season. Until very recently, both rosters have been built on a running offense with a tough-nosed defense. While the Ravens appear set to destroy those similarities by evolving into a pass-first offense with Joe Flacco at the helm, Reed can continue his career with the Texans in the same vane.
Despite winning the Super Bowl last year, Reed struggled personally. A torn labrum significantly affected his ability to tackle receivers and running-backs, as he too often tried to knock opposing players out rather than using his shoulder to wrap up and pull down. He finished the season with 58 tackles and four interceptions.
The future first ballot hall-of-famer will be 35 at the beginning of next season. His legendary range and overall physical skills may have declined, but not so significantly that he can be targeted. Reed still has the intelligence and ball skills to match anyone else playing his position, but at this point needs a strong supporting cast.
In Houston, he fits into a perfect defense to play to his abilities.
During his career with the Ravens, Reed has been accustomed to playing behind one of the strongest, if not the strongest, front sevens in the NFL. Ray Lewis was a constant presence at inside linebacker. Lewis marshaled his teammates and consistently performed to an elite level for most of his career. In Houston, the Texans have a similar style of player in Brian Cushing. Cushing missed much of last season through injury, but is expected to be healthy entering this season.
While Lewis was an ever-present, the Ravens consistently changed the pieces around him. Even though the names and faces were different, the production typically didn’t waver.
In recent years, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs have led the line for the Ravens with Lewis. Similarly, JJ Watt and Mario Williams have for the Texans. Williams and Watt barely played together, while Williams is no longer on the roster. However, Brooks Reed, Whitney Mercilus and Antonio Smith are expected to contribute massively in 2013. Reed will be able to benefit from quarterbacks throwing the ball under pressure without feeling pressured himself to support the run.
If any safety is forced to play in the box, it will be his new partner on the back end, Danieal Manning. Manning is so similar to Ravens’ last safety partner, Bernard Pollard, that he actually replaced him in Houston two seasons ago. It could be argued that Manning is actually better than Pollard at this point in his career.
Much of Reed’s time last season was spent covering for the Ravens’ depleted cornerback corps. Without Lardarius Webb, the defense was forced to adjust its approach. When Jimmy Smith was injured and under-performing, Reed was limited even more in the freelancing that he could do. In Houston, Reed will play inside two very talented cornerbacks in Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph. Both had their issues in 2012, but both should be able to rebound in 2013.
Joseph in particular will make Reed’s job easier. When healthy and performing, he is an elite talent who quarterbacks will hesitate to target. If Reed has a cornerback who he can forget about watching over on the back end, then the area on the field he is required to cover is diluted. A diluted field means less distance to travel for Reed when he reads the quarterback or reacts to throws. By proxy, that should allow him to get his hands on more footballs.
As every offensive player in the league knows, when Reed’s hands are on the football it can only mean good things for that defense.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf