In case you haven’t kept up, we’ve been running a regular feature looking at the best individual one-off performances from 2011. We covered the offensive standouts last week and we’re now over halfway through the defense.
Next up are the safeties, those backfield defenders who so often turn in game-changing plays (for better or worse). As is always the case, we’ve looked at their combined grades in run defense, coverage, rushing the passer, and factored in penalties to give you the top overall grades for single games from 2011.
9t. Adrian Wilson, Arizona Cardinals: Week 14 vs. San Francisco (+4.0)
This was a fine season for Wilson who bounced back from a disappointing 2010 campaign. Keep in mind he also played the entire 2011 season with a torn bicep. His Week 14 display stood out as his best performance and gets him a spot on this list, displaying all the talents we’ve come to expect from the Cardinals’ safety. Even after picking up a penalty for a facemask infraction, Wilson earned his spot on this list by breaking up two passes, making two tackles for losses (one on third down), and generating a couple of pressures. A great day.
9t. Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers: Week 4 vs. Miami (+4.0)
When Miami came to San Diego, one player really stood out in the game and that was Weddle. He broke up a pass, intercepted two (though one was called back due to a penalty), and even got a hit on the QB. Throw in a tackle that brought on the Dolphins’ kicking unit and you’ve got a very nice outing.
8. Darian Stewart, St Louis Rams: Week 4 vs. Washington (+4.1)
While Stewart finished with our third-lowest grade of all safeties, he managed to sneak in with the eighth-highest rated game performance. He did have his standard missed tackle, but did little else wrong. Instead, he batted a pass and picked up a pressure while blitzing, broke up two more passes while back in coverage, and added a tackle for a loss and one for a short gain in the run game. A shame he wasn’t able to play like this more often.
7. Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens: Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (+4.2)
2011 started with a classic Ed Reed performance. He showed just how important he was (and still is) to the Ravens in their Week 1 victory over the Steelers. This was done by picking up a pass deflection and two interceptions as he showed the kind of difference-maker he can be. Not his best performance of the season, yet still good enough for the seventh-best overall by a safety.
5t. George Wilson, Buffalo Bills: Week 5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles (+4.5)
While Wilson didn’t quite live up to our billing of him as a secret superstar heading into the season, he was pretty special when the Eagles came to town. Making a variety of plays, he walked away with an interception, a quarterback hit, a batted pass at the line, a pass deflection, a tackle for a loss and two more for short gains. He was all over the field in a display that finally landed him on the radar of many NFL fans.
5t. Kenny Phillips, New York Giants: Week 1 at Washington (+4.5)
You sometimes forget about Kenny Phillips, the former first-round pick for the Giants, yet he’s turned himself into one of the most consistent safeties in a league short in that area. In Week 1, he picked-up a couple of pressures, a pass deflection, and three tackles for less than 2-yard gains. Throw in forcing another incompletion with a big hit on Anthony Armstrong and you have our joint fifth-best performance from 2011 of all safeties.
4. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 16 vs. St Louis Rams (+5.6)
We understand those who think Polamalu wasn’t at his best in 2011. He was a little more hit-or-miss than in years gone by, but when everything clicked there were few capable of doing what he does. Against the Rams, Polamalu ended up with two tackles for a loss (with one on third down), two pass break ups, and a pressure which only go some way to quantifying how much of a nuisance he was in another Steelers victory.
3. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 17 vs. Cleveland (+5.7)
If any play shows what Polamalu brings the table more so than any other it was his perfect timing of an A-gap blitz with 9:07 to go in the first quarter. Shawn Lauvao could do nothing to stop a big time tackle for a loss that was the highlight of a game that also featured two pass break-ups and another interception. Near flawless.
2. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 3 at Indianapolis (+5.8)
When Pittsburgh traveled to Indianapolis, it looked like an upset could be in the cards until Polamalu returned a fumble for a touchdown. In truth, that was more the icing on the cake of a fine display that saw him break-up two passes, and have four combined hits and hurries as he made life miserable for Curtis Painter and Kerry Collins. This game was a perfect example of the kind of nose for the football/ball carrier that has made Polamalu such a must-watch player.
1. Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens: Divisional Playoff vs. Houston (+6.7)
Performances like this are why it becomes such a big deal when Ed Reed even contemplates retirement. By the end of the game his body looked broken, but Ravens fans would argue it’s worth it. He broke up three passes, beat Chris Myers (our top-ranked center) for a pressure, prevented Arian Foster moving the chains on a third down, and–of course–had an interception. If he wasn’t playing, the end result could have been very different.
The following are the top performances for Safeties in coverage and in run support, respectively, in 2011.
Top 10 Coverage Ratings for Safeties
1. Ed Reed (BLT), Divisional Playoff vs. Houston (+4.9)
2. Troy Polamalu (PIT), Week 17 vs. Cleveland (+4.0)
3t. Troy Polamalu (PIT), Week 5 vs. Tennessee (+3.6)
3t. Glover Quin (HST), Week 12 at Jacksonville (+3.6)
5t. Ed Reed (BLT), Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh (+3.5)
5t. Dwight Lowery (JAX), Week 4 vs. New Orleans (+3.5)
7t. Troy Polamalu (PIT), Week 3 at Indianapolis (+3.4)
7t. Adrian Wilson (ARZ), Week 14 vs. San Francisco (+3.4)
9t. Nate Allen (PHI), Week 17 vs. Washington (+3.0)
9t. Nate Allen (PHI), Week 16 at Dallas (+3.0)
Top 10 Run Defense Ratings for Safeties
1. Troy Polamalu (PIT), Wildcard at Denver (+3.8)
2t. Troy Polamalu (PIT), Week 10 at Cincinnati (+2.8)
2t. Ryan Mundy (PIT), Wildcard at Denver (+2.8)
4. Thomas Decoud (ATL), Week 13 at Houston (+2.5)
5t. Reed Doughty (WAS), Week 7 at Carolina (+2.4)
5t. Tyvon Branch (OAK), Week 9 vs. Denver (+2.4)
5t. Quintin Mikell (SL), Week 15 vs. Cincinnati (+2.4)
8t. Troy Polamalu (PIT), Week 16 at St Louis (+2.3)
8t. Kam Chancellor (SEA), Week 1 at San Francisco (+2.3)
8t. Reed Doughty (WAS), Week 13 vs. New York Jets (+2.3)
8t. Roman Harper (NO), Week 10 at Atlanta (+2.3)