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James Harrison > Ed Reed

January 06, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players

As you’ve probably heard by now, Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press.  This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.  Afterall, Harrison was the only defensive player to receive any votes for NFL MVP.

Despite the obvious logic of the choice of Harrison as DPOY, I have been hearing lots of negative comments about the selection.  Several commentators on ESPN and NFL Network have implied that the award should have gone to Baltimore Ravens’ safety Ed Reed.  Some have argued that Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware should have gotten the award.  But the outcry has been far more noticeable for Reed.  This is probably due to the fact that Reed has been on a tear as of late.  He recorded two interceptions in the Ravens’ playoff game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.  He also had two interceptions in each of the Ravens last two regular season games.  That’s 6 interceptions in 3 games.  Pretty impressive.  But does it qualify Reed for DPOY?  No.

Let’s take a closer look at Ed Reed’s numbers.  Fans remember seeing Reed on SportsCenter returning interceptions for touchdowns.  It seemed like he was doing it all the time, right?  Wrong.  Ed Reed had two “pick sixes” during the regular season.  Two.  Not 6.  Not ten.  Two.  But “pick sixes” are a SportsCenter producer’s opium.  They can’t get enough of it.  So when one happens, they show it over, and over, and over, and over again.  Pretty soon we start to think that Ed Reed has twelve of them.  But he only had two.

We have to give credit where it is due.  Ed Reed did lead the NFL in interceptions.  He had nine.  That’s pretty impressive.  But six of those came during the Ravens’ last four games.  That means that for the first 12 weeks of the season, Reed had only 3 interceptions.  Not sounding so impressive anymore, is it?  After week 12 of the season, NOBODY was mentioning Ed Reed for any type of post-season award.

If you look at the entirety of the season, you’ll notice two things.  Firstly, you’ll quickly see that Ed Reed had a below average first 3/4′s of the season.  Second, you’ll notice that Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu had a better season than Reed.  Let’s compare their numbers.  Reed had 9 interceptions, Polamalu had 7.  Reed had 25 passes defensed, Polamalu had 24.  Reed had two touchdowns, Troy had none (But he really had one.  The NFL acknowledged that the refs blew the call when the Steelers played the Chargers, and that Polamalu’s touchdown should have counted).  So overall, their stats look pretty similar.  But the area where Polamalu really blows Reed out of the water is in total tackles.  You know, the primary thing that defensive players get paid to do.  Reed ended the season with 41 tackles, while Troy Polamalu had 73.  That’s 32 more tackles than Ed Reed!  For the mathematically inclined among you, that’s 78% more.  Seventy eight #$%%^# percent!  Which would you rather have from a defensive player, 2 extra interceptions or 78% more tackles?

SportsCenter never talks about tackles.  Tackles aren’t sexy.  Instead, they want “pick sixes”.  They want 75 yard touchdown runs.  They want helmet shattering hits.  They want touchdown celebrations.  They want the spectacular.  They elevate style over substance.  But football is won by fundamental blocking and tackling.  It’s about substance, not style.  And Troy Polamalu’s season had more substance than Ed Reed’s.

So, not only was Ed Reed’s season not better than James Harrison’s, it wasn’t even better than Troy Polamalu’s.

I wrote an article called The Case for James Harrison as NFL MVP.  It can be found here.  In that article, I outlined all of James Harrison’s accomplishments this season.  Rather than rehash them here, I’ll let you go back and read that article.  Suffice it to say that Harrison’s season eclipses Troy Polamalu’s, and I’ve just shown that Polamalu’s was better than Ed Reed’s.  My fourth grade math teacher would write that relationship as follows:

James Harrison > Troy Polamalu > Ed Reed

So all of you Ed Reed apologists can climb back into the closet that you crawled out of.  Ed Reed wasn’t even the league’s best safety this season, much less it’s best defensive player.  James Harrison was, without a doubt, the best defensive player in the NFL this year.  Ed Reed had 3 great games.  James Harrison had an incredible season.

Congratulations Silverback.  You earned the DPOY award.  How about a Lombardi Trophy to complete the set?

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7 Comments to “James Harrison > Ed Reed”

  1. Perhaps the difference in the number of tackles between Polamalu and Reed has something to do with the fact that they play different positions? Perhaps when analyzing the stats between Reed and Harrison, you should include Ray Lewis’s number of tackles?

    Are you a real sports writer, or did you just stay at a Holiday Inn express last night?

  2. Jeff,
    Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu are two of the best safeties in the NFL. Sure, Ed is a free safety and Troy is a strong safety, but they are both safeties. Not so different.

    Whenever you compare players who play different positions, it is always a judgment call. For example, how did the A.P. compare Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, and James Harrison in the NFL MVP race? They play very different positions. Yet, they determined that Peyton Manning was “Most” valuable.

    What I have done is to attempt to turn a qualitative analysis into a quantitative analysis. It’s not perfect, but in my opinion, it is more scientific than the alternative.

    You failed to mention that there are far more differentiating factors than just their positions. Schemes, teammates, assignments, coaches, and many other factors contribute to how a player performs on the field. Yet, when choosing post-season awards, we have to find a way to compare apples and oranges.

    Since you think my methodology is lacking, might I ask you how you would improve it?

  3. Nice blog. I used to toy with one myself as a, first and foremost, college basketball guru a few years ago. Best of luck with it.

    With regards to your article, as a Raven’s fan plagued with bias, I thought both players were deserving and would have had no issues with either receiving the award. While I am less familiar with some of the intangibles involved with the Steelers, I think that Reed’s numbers the first half of the season had a lot to do with the injuries to our secondary (both Landry and McCalister were placed on IR fairly early). While their replacements look pretty good at present, both Fabian Washington and Justin Leonard are first year players in our system, and I think Reed was asked to be more of a safety net, taking away from some of the great instinctive plays we saw him make the second half the of the season.

    Good luck in the AFC Championship on Sunday.

  4. Nobody mentions he is the first silverback gorilla to ever play in nfl.

  5. The conduct of Harrison in the game tonite, is it no wonder he has assault charges on him now? He should of been thrown out of the game for his conduct for slugging the other guy and then carrying on after that. Does money do that to a player or is that just him?

  6. Great article! Harrison is truly the most deserving defensive player to get the award this year. Just think what his numbers would’ve been like if the refs called all the legitimate holding calls deserving to be called? He would’ve absolutely crushed the single season sack total! These other players wouldn’t even have been mentioned. If anyone is not convinced, just watch the three post season games of the Steelers again. He’s an amazing athlete who requires the sole attention of two-thirds of the opposing offensive players on every snap. Well deserved!

  7. Benjamin says:

    Are you kidding me !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ed Reed season was 10 times better then troy Polamalu. Ed Reed actually had 4 total touchdowns. He, no doupt about it, deserved the defensive player of the year award. Would you rather get six points or a simple tackle that any safety can do!!!


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