Although only a Super Bowl win will satisfy Greg Mattison, the Ravens defensive coordinator could point to significant improvement in his defense as the 2009 season went on. The biggest adjustment the Ravens made was going from a team that would sell out on the blitz in 2008 to a team that blitzed more judiciously in 2009.
Here's a key point to consider when looking at the transformation: the Ravens of 2008 under Rex Ryan had 34 sacks; the Ravens of 2009 under Mattison had 32.
"Our pass rush will get better," Mattison said.
Because the Ravens are always seen as a pressure defense team, opposing quarterbacks take a quick drop and get rid of the ball quickly. That offensive approach eliminates a lot of sacks. But what constitutes pressure? It is making the offense adjust to what you do on defense.
In 2009, the Ravens changed the type of blitzes they used, going with less overloads and sending only players who the coaches felt could get to the quarterback and be effective. There was a subtle change in the back end, as well.
"We weren't playing as much straight man coverage," Mattison said. "We were still trying to pressure, but with more zone. It gave us more eyes on the ball. I still feel like we can really improve our ability to pressure. We don't want to be a team that sells all out. That's something that will be a huge deal in the offseason, where we need to work hard on the next step, which is teaching and working hard with pass rush techniques."
Another change that produced big results was the Ravens' in-season decision to become more multiple in their fronts on different downs. They started poorly by giving up tons of big plays, but they finished very resistant to the big play, perhaps the biggest achievement of the defense on the year.
With a different blitz package, they tried not to put as much pressure on what was largely a new secondary. It worked over the long haul, even when the team lost Ed Reed for a month.
But Mattison couldn't be satisfied with progress that fell short of a Super Bowl. When asked how he would grade himself on his first year as coordinator, he offered this:
"I'm very hard on myself. And I'm really excited about next year, having gone through this year. I know there will be a number of things ... that I will get better at. I've talked to the players about that and talked to other coaches. The obligation is to get better. We don't want 'B' players and 'B' coaches. We want 'A' players and 'A' coaches. I guess you get an 'A' grade when you get to the Super Bowl."