When Ed Reed made his Houston Texans debut and his return to Baltimore on that Sunday afternoon back in September, the free safety made so little impact, even one of his former teammates wondered where Reed -- the bearded, ball-hawking, sure-fire Hall-of-Famer -- was during a 30-9 Ravens victory.
"I didn't [notice] him out there until the end of the third," befuddled Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones said without the slightest hint of malice. "I was like, 'Is Ed Reed playing? What's going on?'"
Jones probably wasn't the first person and definitely was not the last to notice that Reed wasn't making an impact for the Texans. Reed failed to pick off a pass in seven games with the Texans and made 16 tackles before they cut him. He has since been highly critical of the Texans, specifically defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, for not putting him and his former teammates in Houston in better position to make plays.
Reed has since joined the New York Jets, who have uncharacteristically defended the pass poorly this season. Critics wondered why Rex Ryan, Reed's former defensive coordinator here in Baltimore, was bringing in Reed. Supporters argued that if Reed had anything left to give, Ryan would be able to squeeze it out of him.
Ryan pretty much acknowledged Wednesday on a conference call with Baltimore media that Reed, who had three tackles in his Jets debut last week, isn't the same player he once was by saying those comparisons are unfair (and really, they are).
"I think the one that I coached before was the greatest free safety in the history of the sport," he said. "I think that's probably not going to be fair to compare where he's at now in his career, but with that being said, we'll see how he plays. We kind of just threw him in [against the Buffalo Bills] and I thought he did well for us."
In that 23-point loss, the Jets allowed a pair of touchdown passes on deep balls with Reed on the field and Bills rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel threw for 245 yards. Often lined up deep -- some might say in another zip code -- as a single-high safety, Reed was seldom around the football and was not targeted in coverage.
"I know I'm still effective, and I know the quarterbacks across the league haven't been throwing the ball my way," Reed told Baltimore reporters Wednesday. "I hope it changes this week, but it probably won't. We'll see."
The Jets, as you know, come to M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday and the Ravens, who have not been producing many big plays in recent weeks, will get an opportunity to attack a Jets secondary that ranks 23rd in the league against the pass.
According to The New York Daily-News, only three teams have allowed more pass plays of at least 40 yards than the Jets, who have been victimized for 10 of them this season. With Ryan often leaving just one safety deep in coverage, cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner have been getting beat over the top in man-to-man.
Ryan used that single-high look during his time in Baltimore, mainly because no free safety in NFL history had the kind of range that Reed did in his prime. He has stuck to it, perhaps stubbornly, this season despite the lack of a quality free safety, and Ryan probably isn't likely to change it now that he has reunited with Reed.
"He's a great player, and what a surprise to see him go there to the Jets," coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. "It's a great reunion. A number of the defenses they were running the last game [against the Bills] were Ed defenses that we know have been run here over the years with Rex and even since. It makes sense."
The Ravens' top outside receivers, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, can beat Cromartie and Milliner deep if they can shake free of them at the line of scrimmage. And if that happens, it will be up to Reed to quickly cover ground and cover up any blown coverages. He says he still has what it takes. So yes, we'll see.