Ravens safety Ed Reed has gotten to know Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey pretty well over the past decade. They didn’t exactly plan it that way, to vacation together in Hawaii pretty much every winter since Reed came into the NFL in 2002. But they have lined up next to each other in eight of the past 10 Pro Bowls.
Both are among the NFL’s active leaders in interceptions. Both will probably wind up in the Hall of Fame. Both are 34, and while their play has understandably tailed off as they age, they still flash the pure talent and play-making ability that has made them two of the most feared defensive backs of this era.
“I have a lot of respect for Champ, man,” Reed said in a rare podium appearance Wednesday. “I got a chance to play with him in the Pro Bowl a couple of times. He’s just a great player and a great person, a great man.”
With his interception of Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer last Thursday, Bailey moved into a tie for 26th all-time with 52 interceptions. He is third on the active list behind Reed, who is the active leader and 10th all-time with 61, and Green Bay Packers defensive back Charles Woodson, who has 55.
Nowadays, quarterbacks are challenging Bailey more than they did a few years ago, when just 20 passes were thrown his way in 2008, according to Pro Football Focus. From 2009 to 2011, he was targeted an average of 76.3 times a season. He has been targeted 67 times in 13 games this season, which is tied for 38th in the NFL. Still, he has been targeted just once every 7.2 snaps in coverage, which ranks fifth among all NFL cornerbacks.
Palmer threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns in Denver's 26-13 win. He targeted Bailey five times, completing just two passes for 30 yards. Palmer’s passing rating targeting Bailey was 20.8.
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith grew up watching Bailey, who first played for the Washington Redskins, blanket his positional predecessors. He says that he isn’t in awe of defenders of Bailey’s ilk -- that’s because he has been in the same locker room as Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis for nearly two seasons now -- but Smith still thinks it will be special lining up against Bailey, who could draw the assignment of covering him on Sunday.
“I remember him growing up. He was just a fast, play-making [cornerback], and he’s still the same guy,” Smith said. “I’m excited to play against him, but it’s weird. You watch him growing up and when you think of a shutdown corner, you think of Champ Bailey. I’m excited about the challenge. … He’s one of the greatest.”
Of course, Joe Flacco will have to worry, too, about Bailey and the Broncos’ seventh-ranked pass defense. While chatting with both Baltimore and Denver reporters, he talked about the threat that Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil pose. Without name-dropping Bailey, he also mentioned the secondary.
“They’ve always been an aggressive defense that can get up and stop the run and has some good pass coverage on the outside and secondary and has the outside guys that can rush,” the fifth-year quarterback said. “Obviously, I don’t think we’ve played against Von and he adds another element to those guys being able to head to the passer and have a guy on each side and also be a very good player in the run. You guys are a good defense. They can do all those things -- stop the run, get to the passer, cover the pass well -- so it will be a good challenge for us.”
He probably won't avoid Bailey altogether like other quarterbacks did in the past, but Flacco would be wise to be wary of him.
Like another 34-year-old ballhawk, Bailey has entered the twilight of his career, but that doesn’t mean the old man still can’t shine.
“I have a lot of respect for what he has done, obviously. For this long. At that position,” Reed said.