Game changers

Is there anything that today's strong safeties can't do?

Updated: December 2, 2010, 3:07 PM ET
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN The Magazine
LaRon LandryJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesLaRon Landry has amazing speed and is not afraid to deliver a big hit.

In the third quarter of their Week 8 win over the Redskins, the Lions aligned two receivers, Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson, side by side. Washington countered with Cover 2: Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was alone opposite the two wideouts; strong safety LaRon Landry stood deep behind him. The defensive scheme just begged for QB Matt Stafford to throw a bubble screen to Burleson. After all, Johnson would block Hall while Burleson would be left isolated in the open field against Landry. A shifty wideout squaring off against a red-blooded strong safety? Easy yards.

Not in 2010. At the snap, Landry shot from the secondary as if he were skateboarding downhill. Stafford threw the screen anyway, and Landry -- who ranks sixth in the NFL with 66 solo tackles through Week 11 and is one of the league's best defenders -- instantly flattened Burleson for a one-yard gain.

Seth Wickersham | email

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs.