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Evan Habeeb / US Presswire[/caption]
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed is as important as ever for his team's chances against the 49ers offence, and like fellow veteran linebacker Ray Lewis he could find himself playing his last game for the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
Reed will be an important cog of the run defence, but not by making tackles on the line of scrimmage -- leave that to the younger safety Bernard Pollard. His key role will be as the lone safety in the backfield.
The veteran will stand alone in the middle, on an island, while the Ravens strategically move Pollard into the box to help with the the option plays and a mobile quarterback in Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers' success with the pistol formation and zone read creates a math problem for the Ravens defenders who have to account for Kaepernick keeping the ball and taking off. Moving a safety down is the most direct way to deal with the issue.
Of course, this will cause problems for the secondary, as both corners will need to play man, with Reed alone looking over the top. But this is the perfect situation for the veteran. With the Ravens selling out against the run they'll rely on their free safety's instincts and knowledge to stop the big play. While it's clear Reed may have lost some speed after 11 years in the NFL, he's still able to manipulate and read a quarterback. Lest we forget Kaepernick has only had 10 NFL starts in his career.
The free safety will be the last line of defence against the second-year quarterback's big arm and the Ravens are gambling that Reed's experience will trump Kaepernick's strength and mobility. If they are successful in containing the edge and stop running plays to the outside, Reed will feature heavily all night.
Are Reed's days in Baltimore numbered?
There are rumblings around the NFL right now asking how much longer will Ed Reed be wearing Ravens colours. His team needs him now, but the question of his future has been raised many times this week. While the potential Hall of Famer has had an astonishing career with the Ravens, cap troubles could force Reed to spend his final years beyond Baltimore.
The veteran wants to continue his NFL career, but can the Ravens afford to retain him? Big contracts are due on both sides of the ball, particularly quarterback Joe Flacco who may have earned a massive bump in his salary with his recent playoff performances.
Paul Kruger on the defensive line should also be at the top of the pile for new contracts after an outstanding season.
So could that leave Ed Reed, at 34 years old who played all 16 games in 2012 with a torn shoulder labrum, outside looking in? Well, it shouldn't.
The best way for the Ravens to deal with the end of the Ray Lewis-Ed Reed era is to retain that leadership and experience as long as they can. Have Reed play for the Ravens until he says he is done.
If the mobile quarterback is here to stay, along with option football, his ability to read and react quickly to what's going on at the line of scrimmage will be crucial in the years to come. The Ravens will be able to place him on his island, knowing he can handle it.
There's certainly been rumours of other teams being interested in what he can do, most recently the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts.
By all indications Reed himself wants to remain with the Ravens, but will he change his tune after the Super Bowl once Ray Lewis has left the building and the bids start coming in?
Of course he won't. Ed Reed, while making a career out of flying all over the field, is as solid as a rock. He'll work to remain with the team that drafted him. He'll reward the team that gave him his career, and create a legacy beyond his work on the field.
If the Ravens' front office has any inclination in moving Ed Reed at season's end, maybe a Super Bowl MVP performance by the Ravens' safety -- in nullifying Kaepernick's influence in the running game -- could go a long way in solidifying his spot on Baltimore's roster for years to come.
The man may be alone on an island, but he's waving a Baltimore flag. Mark my words.