1. Chuck Pagano's done such a nice job this year, it might be hard to keep him in Baltimore in 2012. But if the Ravens make a deep run in the playoffs, he's going to be a hot candidate for a number of head coaching positions. And he deserves to be. Before we talk about Pagano, a quick word about Greg Mattison. I stuck up for Mattison more than most during his three years as the Ravens defensive coordinator. For a long time, I thought Ravens fans blamed him unfairly for a ton of personnel gaffes. It really wasn't his fault Fabian Washington couldn't cover, Domonique Foxworth couldn't stay healthy, or that Dawan Landry was extremely overrated. It was Frank Walker who was constantly committing holding penalties or getting beat, not Mattison. A lot of time, the Ravens defense coughed up fourth-quarter leads because the offense couldn't get a first down. By the end of games, they were exhausted. I still think it's obvious he's a better defensive mind that a lot of people gave him credit for. He turned a truly terrible defense at Michigan into a pretty good one in just one year, simply by teaching basic schemes and making his players focus on fundamentals. But Mattison lost me for good on that infamous 3rd-and-16 against Pittsburgh in the AFC Divisional Playoffs when he called for a three-man rush and hung poor Lardarius Webb out to dry. That was classic Mattison, sitting back in coverage, hoping the other team will dump the ball underneath, and trusting your players to react to what the offense does. That's not Chuck Pagano's style. I think that's obvious now. And in an NFL where the rules are constantly being tweaked to give the offense every advantage, you can't play read-and-react defense. You have to constantly be in attack mode, trying to force mistakes. You have to have a deep rotation, and you have to trust your young guys. Because if you don't, good teams will eat you alive. Pagano is a charismatic guy with an aggressive mentality, and he seems to understand that if the Ravens make a few mistakes here and there, that's OK. At least there won't be bullets left in their six shooter when it's over. Sunday's 24-10 victory over the Colts didn't teach us anything we didn't already know about the Ravens. But it was the fourth straight game the Ravens played without Ray Lewis in the lineup, and to be honest, the defense looks like it's rounding into playoff form. It would have been fun to watch Pagano trade wits with Peyton Manning, but as it was, Dan Orlovsky stood no chance against him. At one point, before Baltimore inserted most of his backups, it looked like the Ravens might hold Indianapolis under 100 yards. San Diego is going to be a tremendous test for Pagano, maybe the biggest test his secondary has faced this season. But he continues to show how creative he is by moving players around, blitzing with different players, going deep into his bench, and getting everyone to buy into the Ravens overall goals. It hasn't been perfect. Matt Hasselbeck showed that if you get the ball out quickly, you can neutralize the Ravens pass rush. But that seems like years ago now. Everyone assumed that the Ravens secondary was going to be the weak line this year, but Webb, Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard have all exceeded expectations. No one imagined the Ravens having to rely so much on linebackers like Dannell Ellerbe and Albert McClellan, but both have played well in Lewis' absence. And the pass rush is just better in every area. The Ravens now lead the NFL with 45 sacks this season after having only 27 a year ago. You can tell how much the players like and respect Pagano, too. It's different than the way they felt about Mattison, who they were a little indifferent toward. Suggs, who can't resist playing the role of comedian, said something about Pagano after the game that only enforced those warm feelings. "If anybody is trying to hire a head coach, if they ask, I'm going to say Pagano sucks," Suggs said. "He's terrible. He's a terrible coach. His players don't love him, and he doesn't know what he's doing when he's calling a game." Suggs can say whatever he wants, but he won't be able to hide Pagano for long.
Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.