|Suggs's role may change under the new regime, but his engine will still run high.
|Bob Rosato/SI |
13 KANSAS CITY
20 at San Diego
4 at New England
18 at Minnesota
8 at Cincinnati
16 at Cleveland (M)
7 at Green Bay (M)
27 at Pittsburgh
3 at Oakland
Ray Rice, Running back: Joe Flacco dropped back from center, surveyed the field and saw what
is likely to be a common sight this season on a club not loaded with talent at
wideout: No one was open downfield. So Flacco threw a quick dart to the right
flat, a little high and a little ahead of Rice, but the second-year back from
Rutgers shot his right arm into the air, nabbed the ball one-handed, brought it
into his body effortlessly and turned upfield to complete the training camp
play. "I'm not going to say he's Marshall Faulk," says coach Jim Harbaugh, "but
he's got the skill set of a Faulk or a Brian Westbrook, in that he can pick up
blockers, run outside and really catch the ball. I think this is the year he
The Ravens' staff also liked how Rice ran between the tackles this summer,
not surprising considering he made his mark in college as a tough inside runner.
He'll do more of that this year. Just don't expect Rice to put up fantasy
numbers, because he shares the rushing load with the resurgent Willis McGahee
and last year's breakout fullback, Le'Ron McClain -- and even Harbaugh doesn't know
how the rotation will work week to week. Rice had a total of 140 rushes and
receptions as a rookie, and he could double his touches in 2009. "The oldest
saying in football is that competition makes everyone better," says Harbaugh. "I
know it'll be that way with our running backs."
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 conflicted
about leaving his position as co-defensive coordinator at Florida last year to
take a job as the Ravens' linebackers coach. So conflicted, in fact, that he
called Baltimore's new coach, his good friend John Harbaugh, while changing
planes in Atlanta on his way north and told him, "I can't do it. I can't leave
my 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 that
right away. Ray Lewis, in particular, loved him. Ray likes coaches who can make
him better, and Greg made him better."
Mattison's influence will extend to the Ravens' entire defense this season as
he replaces coordinator Rex Ryan, who left to take over the Jets. During the
10 years that Ryan served on Baltimore's staff, the team allowed the fewest
points and fewest rushing yards in the NFL. Peyton Manning says Ryan's D
required more homework than any other "because you never knew from one game to
the next what you'd see. The pressure came from different places every
Mattison feels the same loyalty to Ryan's attacking defense that he did to
his old Gators players. "Rex's principles were smart, and they worked," says the
unassuming 59-year-old Mattison, who looks more like a State Farm agent than an
NFL coach. "If that's risk-taking, then I'm a risk-taker."
Comparing Mattison with his predecessor, Harbaugh says, "The personalities
are 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 the
Colts in the playoffs two years ago, Ryan said, "As big a challenge as we face
in Peyton Manning, he faces a bigger challenge in us" -- and more traditional rush
schemes. Ryan loved to throw changeups at the line, having hard-hitting Ed Reed
sneak up from his safety position, or overloading one side of the field,
telegraphing that three rushers were coming through one gap and then daring the
quarterback to make a play before one of the rushers pummeled him.
Mattison won't do as much overloading, preferring tactics such as putting
outside linebacker Terrell Suggs over the left tackle to engage in a one-on-one
battle so that other defenders can get their chances against lesser blockers.
He'll also employ more 4-3 fronts, especially with tackle Kelly Gregg (who
played the nose in Ryan's 3-4) returning from a 2008 knee injury to work
alongside penetrating interior rusher Haloti Ngata. "He's the kind of coach who
sees what you do well and puts you in position to do it," says Suggs, who has
averaged nearly nine sacks during his six seasons and recently signed a six-year
deal for a reported $63 million, making him the league's highest-paid
linebacker. "That's all you ask from a coach."
While the temptation is not to tinker, the Ravens have to improve under
Mattison if they're to edge past the Steelers in the AFC North. Both clubs have
almost 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 Heinz
Field. 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 last
Under the leadership of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, in '08 Baltimore put
up 110 more points than it did the previous year -- and in fact outscored the
Colts. But this is still a defense-first team. For the Ravens to vanquish their
hated rivals to the northwest, the adjustment to Mattison is going to have to be
quick and seamless.
-- Peter King