According to Warren Sapp on the NFL Network, the argument about who's better between Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu is 'not even close.' He believes that Reed is clearly the better player because, according to him, Reed impacts the game more citing Peyton Manning who said "How does he do that?" in reference to Ed Reed.
"It's not even close. When you talk about a safety, because I've had one of the best safeties in the NFL in John Lynch, a bowling ball coming in the hole to knock you out ... When you're a safety in the NFL, there cannot be a blueprint of where I want you or how I want you on the field. You spread Troy Polamalu out, you put him on the hash back there, and I have him exactly where I want to. I've never heard that about John Lynch. I've never heard that about Ronnie Lott. I've never heard that about Ed Reed. The only thing I hear about Ed Reed from the best quarterback that I say is in the game, Peyton Manning, is, 'How does he do that?' and 'What did he see?'"
Sapp also had some criticism of Polamalu's performance in the Super Bowl...
"Troy Polamalu just got eaten alive in the Super Bowl. On the third-and-ten play when you blitz from that side, your safety has to cover that side. It's a flat-footed read, and Troy Polamalu is twenty-eight yards deep. There's a third-and-ten slant hit. Gone. Game over. You cannot have a blueprint if you're the best."
These are good points he brings up. Sapp is basically saying that the ability to play coverage, to fool quarterbacks and create interceptions is more valuable than run support. He also makes the point that Polamalu is beatable in coverage by referencing the play in the Super Bowl.
Jamie Dukes, who I don't usually agree with, had this to say about the difference in their careers and statistics...
"I think they both are great players, but this league is about who gets the ball away from the other team more. Who's giving your team the opportunity to succeed? Ed Reed has twice as many interceptions as Troy Polamalu. He has three times as many touchdowns, whether by fumble or return. These are impact plays that directly go to the bottom line of the game. I look at it as the guy who gets the ball from the other team and delivers it to my offense so my offense can do some things. When you start looking at two great players and one of them has twice as many interceptions, that's a powerful statement, and he has three times as many touchdowns."
That's another good point. Ed Reed has many more interceptions and touchdowns, and I think anyone, including Steelers' fans, would argue that Reed is much better at baiting quarterbacks, forcing interceptions and coverage in general. I believe that Polamalu is more explosive in run support, and Dick LeBeau's defense is built around him and gives him unique opportunities. However, Polamalu is not as instinctive as Reed, and Reed's personal career is clearly superior. Obviously, Polamalu has more career success with regard to championships. I suppose the question is whether you put more weight on run support, Troy's speciality, or pass coverage, Ed's specialty.
My opinion is that Reed and Polamalu are two of the best defensive players in the game today. I think their abilities are as different as they are special. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they play completely different positions even though they're both technically safeties. Reed is a free safety and Polamalu is a strong safety, and they're two of the best to ever play those positions.
As a Ravens' fan who loves Reed and has a fearful respect for Polamalu, I cannot objectively say that Polamalu 'isn't even close' to Reed. I do think that Reed is the better player right now and has had the better career overall. I think Reed would have easily been the DPOY if he had played every game last season. That being said, I would take Polamalu every time if I needed a strong safety and Reed if I needed a free safety. Reed is the best center-fielder to ever play the game and Polamalu is one of the best strong safeties ever, but if I were forced to make a choice between the two, I would have to go with Reed because I believe coverage abilities and turnovers trump run support for safeties and Reed has also enjoyed the better career.