By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The media attention may be focused on Ray Lewis as the Ravens get set to take on the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
It’s Ray’s last ride but as he gets set to dance his Baltimore teammates into the Superdome, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be well-advised to focus much of their attention on Baltimore’s Ed Reed.
The Ravens’ free safety ranks with the best players who have played the position. In the NFL Network’s look at New England head coach Bill Belichick, one of the most memorable scenes takes place in a Belichick meeting with Tom Brady as the Patriots prepared for a game with the Ravens.
The focus of the conversation between the two future Hall of Famers was Reed. Both men knew that when Reed was within the area of the ball, there was a good chance he could make a play that would turn the game in the Ravens’ favor.
Reed is completing his 11th season with the Ravens. He has the ability to control the game from the secondary that few players have ever had.
When all is said and done, Reed will rank with Ronnie Lott, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Mel Blount and Deion Sanders among the greatest defensive backs to play in the NFL.
Reed did not have his best season in 2012. However, he was still an impact player. He had 58 tackles, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and three fumble recoveries.
Reed has had five years in his career in which has registered seven or more interceptions. He is a five-time, first-team All-Pro and has been voted to the Pro Bowl nine times.
Reed has 61 interceptions in his career that he has returned for 1,541 yards. Seven of those picks have been turned into touchdowns.
There is little doubt that Reed has the ability to impact any game that he plays in. He may have more ability with the football in his hands than any defensive player other than Sanders.
Lott has watched the whole of Reed’s career, and while he is possibly the greatest defensive player in the history of the 49ers, he looks at Reed with a certain amount of envy.
“I had a few interceptions in my career but I could never catch the ball the way I really wanted to,” said Lott. “Then I look at Ed Reed and how he goes about his business. The way he goes after the ball is incredible. If there was one change to the way I played the game, it would be to go after the ball and run with it once I got it the way Reed does. That’s how to attack the football from the defensive back position.”
Lott played in the NFL for 14 years and he had 63 interceptions in his career. He returned those picks 730 yards and five of them went for touchdowns.
Kapernick’s presence could make Reed’s job much more difficult in this game. Kapernick’s ability to run with the ball means that he is not just going to be able to sit back and influence the play call by his positioning.
Kapernick will run the ball if the Ravens don’t play that option honestly. However, if the Ravens take that option away, Reed will have the chance to match his ability with the quarterback’s.
That’s where the advantage may go to the Ravens. Kapernick is a brilliant athlete with an unlimited future. However, Super Bowl XLVII will be the 10th start of his career.
Reed has been preparing for this game since he was drafted by the Ravens in 2002. If he can get his hands on the football, it could provide the impetus that turns the Super Bowl in the Ravens’ favor.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.