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Ravens Reed Leads All Safeties In Interceptions Since 2008

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Offenses are trending towards an NFL-record passing yards total in 2011. How can defenses combat the explosion of the passing game?  Effective play from the safety position.


"The job is absolutely harder," says New York Jets safety JIM LEONHARD on playing safety in the NFL. "Offenses have morphed from using two-back, power-running formations to where they're always spreading you out. You used to be able to have a safety who could play in the box and one playing free but now that big safety is getting run out of the league."

Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back and Oakland Raiders assistant coach ROD WOODSON recorded 71 career interceptions, the third-most all-time. Woodson, who played cornerback and safety during his 17-year NFL career, certainly agrees with Leonhard’s premise.


"I think the great safeties in this league today understand the game," says Woodson. "There are not many box safeties like there used to be back in the old days where they are real, real big. They’re very agile, they can cover in space. This game has become a spacing game and I think the great safeties today have a very good idea of what they need to do on the field. Basically taking a coach’s mind, putting it into them, and letting them go play football."


CBS NFL Today analyst and former NFL general manager CHARLEY CASSERLY says one of the first attributes required in today’s game for a prototype safety is athletic ability.


"I think the number one thing that you have to look at is athletic ability," says Casserly. "In an ideal situation you want someone that can cover and that has range and then has instinct. Usually a guy with instinct can make up a couple of steps if he lacks a little speed.  Athletic ability, speed and instinct would be the perfect safety." 


Pittsburgh Steelers safety TROY POLAMALU, who is tied for second among safeties in the NFL with 17 interceptions since 2008, recognizes the major shift of the requirements for NFL safeties.  


"If you can’t have that open space movement that is required in today’s game, it’s too tough to play," says Polamalu. "You have to be able to cover a lot of ground when you are back there. Football is evolving into those spread offenses with three-to-five wide receiver sets."


The safeties with the most interceptions since 2008:                                           





Ed Reed

Baltimore Ravens


Nick Collins

Green Bay Packers


Troy Polamalu

Pittsburgh Steelers


Michael Griffin

Tennessee Titans


Brandon Meriweather

New England Patriots/Chicago Bears



While athletic ability and cover skills are vital for NFL safeties, the importance of dissecting offenses is not overlooked.

"You have to be very cerebral back there," says New York Jets defensive coordinator MIKE PETTINE. "You need to be able to stay on top of things because the game is so complicated now. There are a lot of moving parts because teams don't just line up and run at you. There are stacks, bunches, shifts, motion and tight ends and running backs lining up in places they never did before. It's a lot to keep up with."