Keep an eye on Brady-Reed chess match

OWINGS MILLS -- Ed Reed will stare across the line of scrimmage from afar before the football is snapped, trying to catch a glimpse of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's eyes to get a read on his intentions.

And Brady will be sizing up Reed as he prowls around the secondary, audibling or merely pretending to change the play on the fly in an attempt to gain an edge over the Baltimore Ravens' instinctive star free safety.

A classic chess match is about to unfold between two of the game's top strategists, a cerebral game within the game as the Ravens (3-0) square off with the Patriots (2-1) on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

It's Brady's job to catch Reed in a mistake, just as it will be Reed's assignment to outthink Brady for a checkmate by baiting him into a rare miscue.

Who will be the pawn and who will be the king?

"I play chess," Reed said. "And I'm always looking forward to going against great competition."

As gifted and natural as Brady and Reed look out on the football field, both are known as true grinders who haunt film rooms to find a strategic edge. Neither is regarded as the physical prototype for their respective positions.

Both are terrific at what they do because of their work ethic, will power, talent and intellect.

"It will be nice to see how that chess match plays out," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Tom takes a lot of time at the line of scrimmage trying to get an idea as to what you're in before the snap ever takes place.

"Then, he's as good as anybody, once he gets the ball in his hands just figuring out what you're calling and getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers. So, there will be that game being played, and it will be fun to watch before the snap and after the snap."

Brady acknowledged that he doesn't finalize his plans without accounting for Reed.

Which makes sense, considering that Reed is a five-time All-Pro with 44 career interceptions and 11 touchdowns during the regular season. Reed is the lone NFL player to score return touchdowns off a punt return, blocked punt, interception and a fumble recovery.

"You don't break the huddle and think, ‘Let's just run this play without seeing where he's at,'" Brady said. "I was hoping that he'd take this week off. Every team goes into the game thinking, 'We're not throwing Ed Reed interceptions.'"

Reed has made a living out of baiting quarterbacks into thinking he's going to be somewhere else, swooping in to capitalize on their misjudgment.

Last season, he led the league with nine interceptions as he returned two for touchdowns.

That included a 107-yard return for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles to break his NFL record of 106 yards from 2004 when he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Contrary to perception, Reed isn't just freelancing out there. Or guessing.

"He's right where he should be, playing his responsibility," Brady said. "There are guys that guess, but he's a guesser that always gets it right. It's not guessing, it's more knowing. He's sitting on routes and jumping on them."

Reed's prowess as a game-changing defender prompted Patriots coach Bill Belichick into an answer long enough to practically fill an entire newspaper column.

In an abridged portion of his comments, Belichick continually praised Reed, whom he got to know coaching him at the Pro Bowl.

"I don't think I've seen anybody any better than Ed Reed in terms of disguise, ability to read the quarterback," Belichick said. "He can anticipate plays, sometimes it's route, sometimes it's formations, sometimes it's what the quarterback's doing. He's got a tremendous burst and acceleration to the football, great hands, timing and ball skills.

"With Ed Reed back there, I think you almost feel better in one-deep because he can cover the whole field by himself. He really can handle the whole thing back there. He's a rare, rare player at that position, as good as any I've ever seen. He's always around the ball and that's usually bad for the offense."

Brady makes this key matchup captivating, too.

Twice, he has been named the Super Bowl MVP. Two years ago, he was named the NFL MVP.

No quarterback can match his 89-25 record as a starter, a .781 winning percentage that tops Roger Staubach and Joe Montana.

Plus, Brady owns the best touchdown-to-interception ratio ever with 200 touchdown passes and 88 interceptions. He's just 2,683 yards shy of 30,000 passing yards.

"He's one hell of a quarterback," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We have our hands full."

Reed joked that he's not going to give away anything for Brady to diagnose before the snap.

How so?

"I'll stand still just like I am right now, like I'm doing an interview," Reed said with a laugh. "No, we give him some movement, but for the most part it's pretty laid out on what we do on tape."

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