Ravens' Mattison settling into the job

OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce has known Greg Mattison for a long time, an association that began nearly two decades ago when Pryce was being recruited to attend the University of Michigan.

When Mattison was elevated from linebackers coach to become the Ravens' rookie defensive coordinator after Rex Ryan left town to coach the New York Jets, Pryce gave Mattison a strong endorsement.

Several months later following a rough patch where a lot of big plays were allowed early in the season, the defense led by Mattison is now ranked third in the NFL.

"The biggest thing is he's gotten more comfortable with the responsibility," Pryce said Thursday. "He's always been a good football coach. Going from being in the NFL for one year to being a coordinator of a very veteran defense, there's a transition. We trusted him from the time they gave him the job.

"He lets you play. He says, ‘I don't play.' He's different than what we're used to at coordinator. He says, ‘You guys get it done, I'm not putting on pads.' He treats us like guys who have been around for a while. There's a level of respect."

Under Mattison's direction, the Ravens have begun to blitz more and play a more aggressive style somewhat reminiscent of Ryan's no-holds barred approach.

Although Mattison is more conservative than Ryan, his way of doing things has provided results.

The Ravens are allowing just 298.9 yards per game, ranking sixth against the run and the pass overall while ranking second in points allowed per game with a 16.5 average.

"I don't think there's been any drastic changes," Mattison said. "I think it's what you do, you see who's playing well, you see who's healthy, you see what's going to work against a certain offense.

"And that's your job, is to plug those kind of things in to try to take advantage of what they give you. And I think that's all we've really done."

Modest and low-key, Mattison comes off like everyone's favorite uncle.

He's reluctant to take credit for the defense being on pace finish in the top six of the league in total defense for the seventh year in a row.

"This season has been, as I said the first day, it's all about trying to do the best job you can do so these players have success," Mattison said.

"And that's all it's ever been, and you just keep going from day to day. Something they find out in this league right here is when Sunday is over, Monday is on you right now and you go right to the next deal and the next team."

Mattison drew heavy criticism earlier this season, essentially for not being Ryan.

Saddled with cornerbacks who were struggling in man-to-man coverage and relying on a front four to provide pressure without many blitzes, Mattison grew in comfort level with his personnel as the season went on.

He didn't waste time listening to sports talk radio or perusing Internet message boards where his name was basically mud.

"One thing I learned a long time ago is, I can only control what I can control," Mattison said. "And every day as a coach, you go out and try to do the best job you can do. And if that's good enough, if that's not good enough, that's how it is. That's what I've always been taught to do, and that's what I'm always going to try to do."

  During the tough times when he came under fire for the differences between his philosophy and Ryan's go-for-the-throat style, Mattison said he relied on his players and stayed the course.

"I probably leaned on the players," he said. "One thing I've always believed in, it's not about the coaches. It's about the guys that are going out there on that field. And if they believe and they keep working you've got a great opportunity to be successful as a team. And that's what we've tried to do with our guys."

Over the past month, more aggressive game plans have dictated the tempo of games and created results.

Up to 29 sacks for the year and 21 interceptions, the Ravens have allowed just three points after halftime during the past three games.

Using sound halftime adjustments, the Ravens have allowed a total of just seven first downs and 188 yards during the second half of those games.

At one point this season, the Ravens were ranked 29th against the pass and 19th in total defense.

"Moving from linebacker coach to defensive coordinator, he knew he needed to step up," outside linebacker Antwan Barnes said. "He's doing a good job taking over for Rex Ryan. He interacts with the guys, he's very passionate about his players and about the game.

"He doesn't send as many people after the quarterback as Rex. He doesn't coach as aggressively as Rex, but he does when he's supposed to and we've been getting pressure lately."

During a 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens sacked elusive quarterback Ben Roethlisberger four times.

That rarely happens considering his quick release and ability to recognize pressure.

"We talked about it Saturday night, ‘Just go get him, just go get him and if he takes of running, we'll try to run him down and we'll get a hit on him,'" Mattison said. "I think that's all those guys have really wanted to do. Sometimes we as coaches, and I'm probably the worst at doing this, ‘I want you to rush the passer, but don't you let that quarterback run.'

And those guys kind of look at you and they say, ‘Coach, you wanted me to rush the passer, but you didn't turn me loose.' This whole defense has stayed according to course. They've played hard and they've tried to correct what we haven't done well, and that's all you ask of them."

A veteran of the college ranks with prior stints as a defensive coordinator at Florida, Notre Dame, Michigan and Western Michigan, Mattison's willingness to admit he doesn't have all the answers is uncommon.

"He realizes that he's only been doing it this league for a little while," Pryce said. "He makes us very aware of that fact. That makes it much easier to trust him. He's very humble, and I think that makes him successful."

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