Ed Reed will manning the defensive backfield in Houston next season after agreeing to a three-year deal on Wednesday. Reed spent the previous 11 years as one of the league's premier free safeties in Baltimore. His best years are certainly behind him, but does he have enough left to improve Houston's pass defense?
The Texans allowed 225.8 passing yards per game in 2012, 16th in the league, but that only tells part of the story. According to the opponent-adjusted ratings at Football Outsiders, Houston actually had the fourth-most efficient passing defense last season, finishing 12.4 percent better than average. The Texans were playing with the lead most of the time, which will skew passing totals. Their overall per-play effectiveness was among the best in the league.
A key cog in that efficient passing defense was free safety Glover Quin, who has since departed to the Detroit Lions. Quin had the best season of his career in 2012, recording 84 tackles, 14 passes defensed and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus charts and grades every play in the NFL season, and it gave Quin an overall rating of 0.5, 22nd among safeties who played at least 75 percent of their team's snaps. Quin was best in run support, earning the eighth-best rating among safeties in individual run defense.
Overall, Quin is coming into his prime but was still just a bit above average last season. Will Reed serve as a suitable replacement?
Reed is obviously in the waning years of his career, and age started to show in 2012. He was still a playmaker, picking off four passes, but the rest of his skills took a step back. His strengths are in contrast to Quin's, as he was poor in rush defense last season, but good in coverage, earning a 4.5 grade from PFF. A lot of that has to do with his interceptions and 16 passes defended, because when it comes to forcing incompletions, Quin was better at guarding his area in 2012.
Part of the charting PFF does involves calculating a completion rate for the area in which defensive backs are charged to cover. In past years, Reed has been among the best at preventing completions in his area, but in 2012, cracks in the armor began to surface. There's little doubt that Reed has lost a step, and the chart below shows the trend of completion rates for him, compared to those of Quin.
Quin has improved each year in the league, posting a career-best catch percentage last year. Meanwhile, Reed has allowed more and more catches. 2009 stands as a bit of an outlier, as Reed missed several games and played with injuries. While Reed was better at defending the pass overall in 2012 (including more than just catch rate), it appears Quin is closing the coverage gap.
So what can the Texans expect from Reed in 2013? He's always been a ball-hawk, and that won't change. Reed's presence comes with a greater likelihood of turnovers by the opposition, and that is never a bad thing.
Reed will also be an upgrade in pass defense over Quin, who was much more run-focused. Houston will be playing the best in the AFC this year, including New England and Denver, meaning an improved pass defense will be a great asset.
With that better pass defense comes poorer run help, but Houston is probably fine with that trade-off as the NFL becomes increasingly pass-happy. If Reed can maintain his performance from last season, he stands to give the Texans a better chance against Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. If he comes back refreshed and plays more like he did in 2011, Houston's combination of pass-rush and back-end coverage ability may make it the best against the pass in the league.