We’ve mentioned LB Ray Lewis a few times over the past couple of days in talking about the Ravens defense, but it’s important to acknowledge another perennial All-Pro and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year who is also at the heart of Baltimore’s defense.
Ed Reed is one of the best safeties in the game and he makes a game-changing play seemingly every week. Reed holds the Ravens franchise record and is the active leader since entering the league in 2002 with 43 INTs. The 5-time Pro Bowler and 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has taken 5 of those picks back for TDs. Last week against the Bengals, Reed picked off a Carson Palmer pass and returned it 52 yards for a score.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell agreed that the Lewis-Reed combination might be the best LB/S combination in the NFL.
“Ed Reed is a ball-hawk,” Bevell said. “You can see him sometimes sneaking around back there (in the secondary) like he’s hiding behind a rock or something. He thinks he’s hiding himself. He does a great job obviously of getting his hands on balls, picking them off, making big plays with them, taking them back for touchdowns.”
Bevell said that beyond Reed’s physical abilities, it’s his mental preparation that sets him apart from other players at his position.
“He understands his defense; I think he understands the teams that he’s playing as well as he understands his defense,” Bevell commented. “So he knows where he can take a chance, what type of route he might want to jump.”
Tags: Darrell Bevell
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Vikings WR Percy Harvin (shoulder), who missed practice on Wednesday, was listed on Thursday’s injury report as a limited participant in practice. There were no other changes from yesterday’s report for the Vikings.
For the Ravens, both LB Jarret Johnson (shoulder) and DT Haloti Ngata (back) went from non-participants to limited participants on Thursday, while the newly-signed WR David Tyrell showed up on the injury report as a full participant with a hamstring injury.
Tomorrow’s injury report will also list – among the choices of out, doubtful, questionable and probable – each player’s status for Sunday’s game.
Tags: Percy Harvin
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One of the most talked about position battles throughout the offseason and training camp was the nickel back spot. It was actually more of a 3rd CB spot because starting CB Antoine Winfield also takes on nickel back responsibilities from time-to-time. But the main idea was to find a 3rd corner .
In his 2nd year with the Vikings, 6-year veteran Benny Sapp won the job as the Vikings 3rd corner coming out of the preseason and Vikings assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier gave Sapp a positive review when asked about him during his Thursday press conference.
“That first season we got him, he kind of struggled with exactly what we wanted from him and how we wanted him to respond in certain situations,” Frazier explained. “But today Benny has really become the ideal nickel back. He’s done a great job for us both in coverage and he does a great job in run support. And he understands situations in games. He’s really come a long way.”
It’s important to have 3 solid and reliable CBs in the NFL because defenses are often forced to have all 3 on the field at once to cover receivers. For the Vikings, versatility is also a necessary trait for the 3rd corner because Frazier likes to mix Winfield into nickel roles as well, which means the Vikings 3rd corner might be playing outside while Winfield slides inside on occasion. In addition, with the Vikings pride themselves on being the #1 unit against the run, so Frazier also demands that his nickel back be a solid supporter in the run game.
“You’re trying to find a guy who has some versatility…the ability to be able to play in the slot, and cover people, usually the third best receiver on the team but sometime it’s the team’s top receiver,” Frazier said. “But also, for us, being able to tackle. He has to be a guy who can respond in run situations and be a part of our run fits as well.”
Tags: Benny Sapp, Leslie Frazier
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We mentioned in an earlier blog entry the historically significant matchup that will occur this week between QB Brett Favre and LB Ray Lewis. The significance of that matchup set aside, there’s yet another one that will be interesting to watch on Sunday – RB Adrian Peterson against Lewis.
Both players have the attitude that they can do anything they set their mind to, which combined with their supreme athletic talents and football instincts is what makes them great players.
Peterson is not afraid to lower his shoulder and be the initiator of a hit. Often times that strategy sends a message to the defender and causes hesitation in the future. But Lewis will not hesitate. Although he’s been in the league for 14 years, Lewis has not lost his edge nor has he lost his will to take on young superstar RBs.
Lewis spoke on Wednesday about the respect he has for Favre, but he also shared a similar sentiment about Peterson.
“To me, I think he plays the game the way it should be played,” Lewis said. “When he runs the football, he runs the football with things on his mind, and you can appreciate that. I don’t know if you rate him anywhere right now. I truly hope he has a great future ahead of him, bottom line. Just the way he plays football, he makes you appreciate the game.”
Peterson and Lewis are bound to have an on-field meeting Sunday, but Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said stopping Peterson and the Vikings will not be Lewis’ job exclusively.
“If we are going to have any chance, any chance to slow this offense down, we are going to have to play great team defense,” Harbaugh said. “Ray obviously will be at the heart of that along with Ed Reed and some other guys, but it’s going to have to be a team effort. You cannot slow these guys one on one. It is going to have to be a team effort. They are just too good and have too many weapons. “
Tags: Adrian Peterson
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The Vikings-Ravens matchup this Sunday is a marquee NFL matchup so far this season because it features a pair of aggressive and nasty defenses as well as a pair of efficient, run-first offenses.
But the matchup is also significant from a historical perspective. It’s not every week that you see 2 players as decorated as QB Brett Favre and LB Ray Lewis going against each other. This matchup transcends that of 2 stars going head-to-head and is instead a matchup featuring 2 of the best players to ever play the game at their position.
Over 14 NFL seasons, Lewis has established himself as one of the most-feared defenders and fiercest competitors in the league. He’s a 10-time Pro Bowler, 2-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a Super Bowl MVP. When all is said and done, Lewis will be looked upon as one of the best LBs to ever play the game.
“I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Favre said of Lewis. “The guy is a winner, he’s a competitor. I love his passion. He’d be a great guy to play with and not a guy you really want to go up against.
“To be mentioned with a guy like Ray, in the same breath, I’m honored by that.”
Favre’s record speaks for itself, too, and shows that he will also go down as one of the best players to ever play his position in the NFL. Aside from holding every significant pass record, Favre is also a 10-time Pro Bowler. He has a Super Bowl MVP Award and he’s been named league MVP 3 times.
“Favre is the true, true, true professional, the true warrior anytime he steps on the football field,” Lewis said.
Aside from their individual accolades, Favre and Lewis share other traits that have led to their greatness.
“The passion, the fire, the leadership, the things that these guys stand for on opposite sides of the ball,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said when listing traits shared by Favre and Lewis. “There are probably a lot of similarities there.”
Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress agreed that plenty of similarities exist between Favre and Lewis, but he also added that there are some differences as well.
“I think they are two different animals,” Childress said. “They both have great passion for the game. Brett doesn’t quite have the same introduction dance that Ray has. I’m not sure he wouldn’t hurt something if he were to go through that.
“They play at a high-level and have done it for a very long period of time and are great leaders in their own ways.”
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The Vikings defense this year has been successful at taking their opponents #1 option away. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson found the endzone one time in Week 2, but outside of that score every other team’s #1 offensive threat has been held scoreless by the Vikings.
WR Braylon Edwards, who caught 5 passes for 64 yards and a TD this week only days after being traded to the New York Jets, was playing for the Browns in Week 1 against the Vikings and was held to just 1 catch for 12 yards. San Francisco’s Frank Gore was injured early in the game and wasn’t a factor in Week 3, the Packers WR duo of Donald Driver and Greg Jennings combined for just 7 receptions and 86 yards in Week 4 and then Rams RB Steven Jackson was held out of the endzone in spite of 21 attempts last week.
But the Vikings ability to neutralize the opposing team’s #1 option has come with some collateral damage. On average over the first 5 games, the Vikings are allowing opposing TEs to catch 7.8 passes per game and 4 of the Vikings 7 passing TDs allowed have been caught by TEs.
“You got to decide what you are going to take away,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said. “We don’t want to concede anything. You’re not conceding it. You’re still defending a play, but people have done a nice job of finding that guy (their tight end).”
The success of opposing team’s TEs is not an indictment of the Vikings pass defense. The Vikings are tied for 5th in the NFL with 6 INTs and they lead the league in sacks with 18.0. But it is an area that needs to be cleaned up a bit, especially with a talented TE named Todd Heap coming to town with Baltimore this weekend.
Heap is a 9-year veteran out of Arizona State and he has 395 career receptions for 4,511 yards and 32 TDs. So far in 2009, Heap is 2nd on the team with 21 catches and he also has a pair of scores.
“I expect to see him a good bit,” Childress said of Heap. “He is a good player. He doesn’t have to play standing next to a tackle. They can open him up. He is one of those kinds of guys they can displace. They also have L.J. Smith there from Philadelphia who has the ability to be able to displace as well as play next to the tackle. So I’m sure we’ll see a good diet of those guys. They both have way above average receiving skills, too.”
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