If the Ravens' Chuck Pagano has proven anything heading into Thursday's preseason game against the Washington Redskins, it's that he's an unpredictable defensive coordinator.
Only a few weeks ago Pagano cautioned fans not to read too much into the defense because he was going to play "vanilla" schemes to avoid showing too much in the preseason. He then unleashed safety blitzes at Philadelphia, and brought the nickel backs as well as linebackers against Kansas City.
So, why did he decide to change the plan?
"I don't know. I think that's just getting impatient," Pagano said. "I guess that's just letting them play. [Offenses have] still got to line up and they've still got to block. So, whether they see it now, it doesn't matter. We can show the same thing and not be running it and run something different. So, that's just a matter of cutting these guys loose and wanting to show a little more aggression than we've been."
Defenses tend to take on the personality of their coordinators, and Pagano is the epitome of being carefree and loose.
When a defensive back breaks up a big pass in practice, he's on the sideline starting the chant of that player's name. And when the defense stopped Joe Flacco a few yards short of the end zone in a two-minute drill to end practice, Pagano was the first one running on the field with his fist raised high.
"He's in it with us and for us," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "Not to take anything away from [former defensive coordinator Greg Mattison]. Chuck definitely seems like more one of the guys than anybody I've played for."
The biggest change from Mattison to Pagano has been the emphasis on the pass rush.
The Ravens gave up the fewest offensive touchdowns in the NFL the past two seasons (52), but Mattison was criticized for playing it too safe and relying on four-man fronts to create pressure. The Ravens recorded 27 sacks last season, a low in the franchise's 15-year history.
Pagano's style is more aggressive, something he's never tried to hide. In the press conference that introduced him as defensive coordinator, Pagano said, "My philosophy is: let's go out and wreak havoc."
"That's our personality. We constantly want to keep coming after people," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "If we make a mistake, we want it to be on our backs and not the fact that we laid back. We want to constantly be bringing heat."
Last week against Kansas City, the Ravens finished with five sacks and nine quarterback hits for a total of 14 shots on the quarterback.
The number of hits is a little surprising considering the Chiefs tried to protect their quarterbacks with three-step drops and quick screens. It could also be a little scary considering the Ravens have only scratched the surface of their playbook.
"Chuck is a madman," Foxworth said. "It's going to be some really interesting things that you're going to see happening. It's going to require a great deal of dedication mentally from our guys to keep up with the complex things. We have a lot of situations where guys are doing jobs where they wouldn't normally be doing them. It helps disguise a defense and helps to get us more sacks, which seems to be the big focus of what Chuck wants to do."
Pagano will ask defensive backs to blitz and linemen to drop back in coverage. It will increase pressure on quarterbacks and decrease the margin of error for the Ravens secondary.
"It's kind of odd with him being a defensive backs coach, you would think he wouldn't put those guys on an island," Johnson said. "But he understands how good they are and that's why you can call pressure."
Foxworth said the key is not letting receivers get past you for big plays.
"Our defense's mentality is we're going to get [to the quarterback] sooner or later," he said. "As long as we make tackles in the back end, quarterbacks will start to get nervous and that's when we'll start to eat when they're scared and start throwing the ball quickly because they're tired of [defensive tackle] Haloti [Ngata] landing on top of them."
The players are pleased with Pagano showing so much pressure in the preseason. They feel like it's their way to make a statement.
"Why try to hide anything when people already know," Ngata said. "I think that's what he's trying to tell the NFL. We're going to play Baltimore defense."
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