It's Mattison Time: The Baltimore Ravens Defense

Patrick SmithContributor IMay 28, 2009

BALTIMORE - 2008:  Greg Mattison of the Baltimore Ravens poses for his 2008 NFL headshot at photo day in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Getty Images)

Greg Mattison is about to fly one of the most complicated, combustible contraptions in football—the Ravens defense.

After just one year in the NFL, he's been handed the keys to the highest-profile, highest-octane defense in the league.

Of course, it's not like Mattison is a rookie. He's been a positions coach for 38 years, but 37 of those years were in college.

Baltimore Head Coach John Harbaugh named Mattison his defensive coordinator after the inevitable departure of Rex Ryan to the world of head coaching.

Just as minor league baseball fans should never get too attached to the best players on their favorite teams, Ravens fans should avoid falling in love with coordinators. As soon as they prove they're any good, another team snatches them up for a head coaching job (see Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan and Ryan).

Mattison served as linebackers coach last year, Harbaugh's first as an NFL head coach. You could say they go way back.

Harbaugh's dad Jack coached Western Michigan, employing young John as an assistant and Mattison as his defensive coordinator for six years.

After WMU, Mattison evolved into one of the nation's hottest defensive properties. After a few years each at Navy, Texas A&M, and Michigan, Mattison became the defensive coordinator—and recruiting coordinator—at Notre Dame. But what vaulted Mattison into the big time were his three years as defensive coordinator and line coach at Florida—including the national championship team in 2006.

So he knows the science of football defense. He can run a D in his sleep.

However, can he keep a handle on Ray Lewis, whose personality is as out-sized as his talent? Can he work with Terrell Suggs, who plays with such a furious abandon, he's prone to lose control? Can he focus Ed Reed, who can be sullen?

The Ravens lost linebacker Bart Scott and defensive back Jim Leonhard to free agency in February of this year (both followed Ryan to the Jets), and the team canned longtime cornerback Chris McAlister.

Can Mattison retool the Ravens' D?

They signed corner Domonique Foxworth, a Baltimore native and an ex-Maryland Terrapin. They brought in Chris Carr for third-down passing defense. Also, nose tackle Kelly Gregg will return from microfracture knee surgery.

Baltimore's looking for a lot more this year out of linebacker Tavares Gooden, a second-year guy from the University of Miami who has shot to the top of the depth chart this offseason. Joining Gooden, Lewis, and Suggs at linebacker will be Jarrett Johnson, who was surprising last season. Haloti Ngata and Trevor Price make for two of the best defensive ends in football.

Mattison's Ravens will, again, punish running backs who challenge them.

No defense had fewer rush attempts against it, and no one allowed fewer rushing touchdowns (4!) than the Ravens' D. And the pass defense was almost as stout.

Baltimore's got defensive talent squirting out of its helmet ear holes. Keeping that talent focused and pointed in one direction will be the biggest challenge Mattison faces in his new job.