BALTIMORE | Give Greg Mattison credit for realizing his job as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens isn’t so much about drawing up elaborate schemes as it is simply throwing 11 talented guys out there who can make a quarterback sweat before the opening kickoff.
Two years ago, Mattison was a co-defensive coordinator at the University of Florida. Last year, he joined the NFL for the first time as Baltimore’s linebacker coach. Then, after Rex Ryan left in January to become coach of the New York Jets, Mattison assumed leadership of one of the NFL’s fiercest defensive units.
Before the Ravens faced Ryan’s Jets on Monday night, Mattison felt the need to offer a little perspective.
“Matty gave a great talk this morning,” defensive end Trevor Pryce said after Baltimore’s 24-23 victory. “He said, ‘Look, I don’t play. I can call whatever. The guys that play are the important ones.’
“I think he really means that,” Pryce said. “As long as the 11 of us on the field play with what we have, we’ll be OK no matter who the coordinator is. So that’s kind of what his message was. It’s good for him to say that. It’s good that he recognizes that, being a first-year NFL coordinator after being linebacker coach for one year. His career path has developed quickly. But he recognizes the pro game.”
Talent is what matters most in the NFL. Mattison spends plenty of time drawing up schemes that take advantage of Baltimore’s talent, but in the end, what matters most is that gifted players like Pryce, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Kelly Gregg stand atop the depth chart.
Suggs hasn’t played a down this preseason because of an Achilles tendon injury, yet the Ravens’ first-string defense has still been excellent. After blanking the Washington Redskins in the preseason opener, Baltimore hounded Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez from the outset.
Ngata returned an interception for a touchdown on the game’s second play from scrimmage, and Sanchez produced only one first down over the first 15 minutes while the Ravens took a 14-0 lead.
“Right now, as a first-team defense we are definitely clicking,” Lewis said.
The Ravens aren’t scouting the opposition or employing complicated blitz packages. They have wisely chosen to save the best stuff for the regular season, yet the defense is still good enough to remain stingy.
“We’re just running around and playing. We haven’t watched film and broke down a team yet,” cornerback Fabian Washington said. “We’re just reacting to things. It’s going to get a lot better once we break down things.”
The Ravens insist their defense remains a work in progress, although Sanchez and Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell probably would disagree after being hounded by Lewis and Co. Campbell’s two drives ended in punts, and Sanchez couldn’t move the Jets until Lewis and Reed found their way to the sideline.
Mattison is delighted to have inherited a group of players who take pride in being part of a unit that since 1999 leads the NFL in fewest points allowed, fewest yards rushing allowed, takeaways and interceptions.
“As you’re watching the tape, when a player does something good or something bad, you’re going to hear echoes throughout that room of ‘great job’ or ‘hey, that’s not how we do it,’ ” Mattison said. “It’s other people always talking in there, not just the coach. That’s the thing we keep talking about, about the Ravens and their attitude.”