September 02, 2009
SI's 2009 NFL Scouting Reports
Baltimore Ravens
Projected Finish: 2nd in AFC North
Suggs's role may change under the new regime, but his engine will still run high.
Bob Rosato/SI
2009 Schedule

This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.

A new coordinator won't mess with their defensive style. Will his new tactics get them past the Steelers?

After 32 years as a college assistant, Greg Mattison was conflictedabout leaving his position as co-defensive coordinator at Florida last year totake a job as the Ravens' linebackers coach. So conflicted, in fact, that hecalled Baltimore's new coach, his good friend John Harbaugh, while changingplanes in Atlanta on his way north and told him, "I can't do it. I can't leavemy guys." Harbaugh persuaded him to catch his flight.

"Greg's so loyal, and he felt awful about leaving players he'd recruited,"Harbaugh says. "That's the kind of guy he is. Our players got a sense of thatright away. Ray Lewis, in particular, loved him. Ray likes coaches who can makehim better, and Greg made him better."

Mattison's influence will extend to the Ravens' entire defense this season ashe replaces coordinator Rex Ryan, who left to take over the Jets. During the10 years that Ryan served on Baltimore's staff, the team allowed the fewestpoints and fewest rushing yards in the NFL. Peyton Manning says Ryan's Drequired more homework than any other "because you never knew from one game tothe next what you'd see. The pressure came from different places everygame."

Mattison feels the same loyalty to Ryan's attacking defense that he did tohis old Gators players. "Rex's principles were smart, and they worked," says theunassuming 59-year-old Mattison, who looks more like a State Farm agent than anNFL coach. "If that's risk-taking, then I'm a risk-taker."

Comparing Mattison with his predecessor, Harbaugh says, "The personalitiesare different, but the confidence is the same, the aggressiveness is the same.And I think Greg's going to be a little more creative."

What you'll certainly get from Mattison is less bombast -- before taking on theColts in the playoffs two years ago, Ryan said, "As big a challenge as we facein Peyton Manning, he faces a bigger challenge in us" -- and more traditional rushschemes. Ryan loved to throw changeups at the line, having hard-hitting Ed Reedsneak up from his safety position, or overloading one side of the field,telegraphing that three rushers were coming through one gap and then daring thequarterback to make a play before one of the rushers pummeled him.

Mattison won't do as much overloading, preferring tactics such as puttingoutside linebacker Terrell Suggs over the left tackle to engage in a one-on-onebattle so that other defenders can get their chances against lesser blockers.He'll also employ more 4-3 fronts, especially with tackle Kelly Gregg (whoplayed the nose in Ryan's 3-4) returning from a 2008 knee injury to workalongside penetrating interior rusher Haloti Ngata. "He's the kind of coach whosees what you do well and puts you in position to do it," says Suggs, who hasaveraged nearly nine sacks during his six seasons and recently signed a six-yeardeal for a reported $63 million, making him the league's highest-paidlinebacker. "That's all you ask from a coach."

While the temptation is not to tinker, the Ravens have to improve underMattison if they're to edge past the Steelers in the AFC North. Both clubs havealmost the same rosters as in '08, when Pittsburgh beat Baltimore three times(by a total of 16 points), the last being the violent AFC title game at HeinzField. One key departure from the Ravens' D was bruising safety Jim Leonhard,who followed Ryan to New York, but he's replaced by the capable Dawan Landry,who's back from a spinal injury that cost him the final 14 games of lastseason.

Under the leadership of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, in '08 Baltimore putup 110 more points than it did the previous year -- and in fact outscored theColts. But this is still a defense-first team. For the Ravens to vanquish theirhated rivals to the northwest, the adjustment to Mattison is going to have to bequick and seamless.

-- Peter King


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