BEREA - There is a good reason Browns quarterback Colt McCoy might be a little more nervous this week than usual.
It's hard for McCoy to think of Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed without having the kind of bad thoughts that make it difficult to sleep. He can try counting sheep, but instead he might end up counting Reed interceptions.
Reed has made a habit of picking off passes 57 in his 10-year career. The future Hall of Famer intercepted two of the three picks McCoy threw in a 20-10 home loss to the Ravens last season.
Along with Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, Reed, more than any other defender, has to be accounted for each play by any quarterback that wants to entertain thoughts of a passer rating above 70.
"I just think he's very smart," McCoy said. "He's very instinctual and he takes chances. Sometimes guys who take chances like that are hard to get a read on, and he just does a really nice job. You just have to know where he's at."
Easier said than done. Reed is a master of disguise at free safety in the Ravens 4-3 defense. Given the freedom to roam the secondary and jump routes, Reed has an intuitive sense of where the quarterback is going with the ball.
While Reed is often compared to Polamalu, they have different styles. Polamalu is a strong safety, which usually means more run responsibilities. The Steelers set up their defense so that Polamalu can pinch down and play the run aggressively.
Reed is more of a pure centerfielder in that he canvasses the deep secondary. His instincts take him where he knows he should go.
"They have really good players everywhere," McCoy said. "I assume (linebacker) Ray (Lewis) will play this week, and Ed Reed does a great job, obviously. He's probably a Hall of Famer. You can't get caught sleeping and try to throw a quick route and not know where he is. For me as a quarterback, that's obviously important this week."
The safety positions have probably evolved more than any other position on defense, with the possible exception of outside linebacker. Long gone are the days when the lone responsibility of safeties free and strong or left and right was to provide a shell to protect the deep zones.
A talented, all-purpose safety today can lead a defense.
"Anytime you have players that are big-time playmakers and on top of that they're your team leaders and communicators, you have a very rare guy," Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. "If he can make all the plays to rally everybody around him, he can make plays in a tough situation and he can make big plays in a game, then it just turns the tide."
One bit of good news in facing the Ravens defense is the possible absence of Lewis, who's been out with a foot injury. When you add Lewis, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs to a defense that includes Reed, you're talking about four future members of the Hall of Fame.
What McCoy will need more than anything is success on the ground by Peyton Hillis. If he does have to pass with regularity, McCoy can only hope that the line gives him decent protection.
"You've got to trust your guys, you've got to trust your running backs, you've got to trust your offensive line to pick up the protection and then you've got to trust the guys to get open," McCoy said. "This week they are really good up front. They do a lot of twists, a lot of games. They'll probably pressure more than anybody we've seen. We've got a lot on our plate."
Maybe a bit too much.