After the Ravens' 30-7 dismantling of the Denver Broncos, the defensive leaders resoundingly applauded coordinator Greg Mattison for his aggressive game plan.

Now comes the hard part: the encore.

This coming stretch will determine whether the defense's resurgence Sunday is a one-game aberration or a sign that the Ravens are back on track. Four of the Ravens' next five opponents have offenses ranked in the top 13 in the NFL: Cincinnati (13th), Indianapolis (fourth), Pittsburgh (sixth) and Green Bay (ninth).

"Our guys are excited about the fact they played against a really effective offense and played well, but we're going to line up against a really effective offense on Sunday," coach John Harbaugh said at his Monday news conference. "Obviously, [the Bengals] are a first-place team with a great quarterback, a physically dominant offensive line, a heck of a running back and a group of receivers that are as good as any in the league. So, that presents a challenge for us."

Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said the Ravens played more multiple fronts against Denver. Cornerback Domonique Foxworth said the defense blitzed more. And when anyone from the Broncos touched the ball, it seemed like four or five Ravens were swarming around him.

For one of the few times this season, Ravens fans weren't talking about the loss of Rex Ryan. Instead, the Ravens' defensive leaders - Johnson, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs - took it upon themselves to support Mattison, who got as much flak from fans as anyone during the bye.

"For all the heat that coach has been getting, he put together a really good package for the Broncos," Suggs said. "You've got to give credit where credit is due. I think Coach Mattison did a good job of putting all of us in the right plays and playing a good chess match."

Said Johnson: "Coach Mattison had a tough job, stepping into some big shoes, and I've thought he's done an awesome job. We haven't played well enough to support him. So we needed to come out and have a big game for him. He's done everything he could do."

Mattison has been criticized for not moving his players around before the snap like Ryan. Some considered his schemes passive because they relied too much on the front four to bring pressure.

On Sunday, the Ravens seemed to attack more from the first snap, which resulted in a sack by Johnson.

Harbaugh, though, disagreed with the notion that the defense underwent major changes during the bye.

"There were no new calls. There were no new inventions," Harbaugh said. "It was all part of the Ravens package. But I thought Greg and the coaches did a really good job of putting together a plan for Denver, understanding what Denver is trying to accomplish and go after it."

Harbaugh added: "Was it a better plan? Maybe. Was it executed better? Sure. All of those things go together and you get a better performance."

The next step is consistency. The Ravens gave up 27 points to the New England Patriots a week after holding the Cleveland Browns to a field goal. They allowed 33 points to the Minnesota Vikings a week after limiting the Bengals to 17 points.

"I thought we made some vast improvements," Johnson said. "To play against an opponent of that caliber was huge. We've got to build off of it."

Four players who will test the rejuvenated Ravens defense over the next five games:

* Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson: : It was only three weeks ago when Benson became the first running back in 40 games to gain 100 yards against the Ravens, ending the eighth-longest such streak in NFL history. But he isn't a one-game wonder. Benson is second in the league in rushing yards per game (102.9) and has scored a touchdown in three straight games. He is looking to become the first running back to crack 100 yards in consecutive meetings against Lewis since Miami's Ricky Williams did it in 2002-2003.

* Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning: : No quarterback has dominated the Ravens more this decade than Manning. In winning the past six games against them, he has completed 64 percent of his passes and averaged 246 passing yards. Manning has thrown for 11 touchdowns and three interceptions during that stretch. But he has lit up the Ravens in the past two meetings, throwing seven touchdowns on 32 completions.

* Pittsburgh wide receiver Santonio Holmes: : The focus of the Ravens' attention has usually been on Hines Ward, but Holmes has been the Ravens' biggest problem over the past three seasons. He has scored a touchdown in five straight games against them, reaching the end zone a total of six times. Holmes has put a dent in the Ravens' secondary with TDs of 38, 59 and 65 yards. When the Steelers clinched the AFC North at M&T; Bank Stadium last season, Holmes' controversial 4-yard touchdown with 43 seconds won the game.

* Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers: : Rodgers failed to beat Brett Favre this season, but he is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league. He leads the NFL in quarterback rating (110.4), recording a rating over 100 in five straight games. The bigger concern for the Ravens is his big-play ability. Rodgers is not only tops the NFL with an 8.8-yard per attempt average, but he also has thrown a league-leading nine passes more than 40 yards. In two games against AFC North teams (Cincinnati and Cleveland), he has thrown for four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.


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