NFL: JAN 03 Ravens at Bengals
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Quarterbacks and safeties have a fascinating relationship. 

Throughout every game, it's the safeties the quarterbacks often monitor with the most attention. They try to manipulate those defensive backs before choosing where to throw the football. Meanwhile safeties are constantly repositioning themselves, rotating before and after the snap in an attempt to confuse the quarterbacks in hopes they'll bait them into a bad decision. It's football's most complex cat-and-mouse game. 

Quarterbacks have a seemingly never-ending list of responsibilities. Be accurate and smart with the football, throw with anticipation, the correct touch, timing, and velocity, drift away from pressure in the pocket, use your legs to create, etc. Safeties too have a laundry list of on-field duties, especially today. Range from the deep middle to defend a sideline pass, don't overcommit to play action, man-up in the slot, run with the tight end down the seam, play linebacker, blitz from the outside, etc. 

And the finest quarterbacks mask team flaws. They can conjure offensive magic even when the designed play fails. And the best safeties are mistake-erasers. They turn blown coverages into incompletions and disintegrate touchdowns split seconds before they fully materialize.

These two players are frequently at odds but are, in many ways, mirror images of each other. 

The eight teams that will play in the divisional round of these NFL playoffs have two things in common. Quality-to-elite play from their quarterback, and they all boast at least one stud safety. The often overlooked, last line of defense has never been more important in the NFL

The Bills boast Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Kevin Byard is a First-Team All-Pro for the Titans. Cincinnati has Jessie Bates patrolling. Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu has long been an impact player. Taylor Rapp has flashed while playing over 1,100 snaps for the Rams this season. The Buccaneers have versatile playmaker Antoine Winfield Jr. on their back end. And either Packers safety Adrian Amos or Jimmie Ward of the 49ers are the most underrated of the bunch. 

Counting the first round of the postseason, this is the collective coverage stat line for those safeties. 


Targets in coverage areaCatches allowedYardsTDsINTsQB rating

Playoff star safeties

372

246

2660

24

30

74.8

That 74.8 passer rating is essentially equivalent to Justin Fields' during the regular season and only a tick better than Trevor Lawrence and Sam Darnold

And of course, those safeties do so much more than strictly cover, but their ability to stifle passes thrown in their direction is their most important job responsibility. 

Yet, in the last decade, only two safeties were picked inside the top 10 (Jamal Adams and Mark Barron), and they were both more linebackers than coverage specialists. Of the group assembled in this article, Ward was the only first-round pick -- No. 30 overall in 2014. In the draft, the perceived value of safeties should and likely will change. 

We've long understood quarterbacks are the most essential figures on an offense, and over the past decade, as we've genuinely entered a passing renaissance in the NFL, that narrative has rightfully gained more traction. 

As we enter the second round of the playoffs, we need to give great safeties the recognition they deserve as the needle-moving quarterbacks of the best teams' defenses.