Under Pagano, aggression and swagger appear restored to Ravens' defense

If Sunday's game was any indication at all of the style of defense we're going to see under Chuck Pagano, the Ravens and their fans might be in for a fun 2011 season.

Pagano, who took over as Baltimore's defensive coordinator in January after a three-year stint as defensive backs coach, unleashed his hounds on the Steelers two days ago. Pagano sent pressure from all angles, disguised his blitzes, and gave Ben Roethlisberger's headaches - figuratively, and possibly literally, as well.

The result was a single-digit scoring effort from Pittsburgh and a highlight reel stocked with monster hits and big plays.

"I've never seen a defense play like this, never been a part of a defense that played like this," cornerback Cary Williams said. "But I know this is tradition and it's been built since 1996, and it's something we hold strong to. A lot of us weren't here during that time, but there's a lot that's expected and I feel like the tradition that was established, we want to uphold and build on that. We just went out and played Ravens football, and it showed."

For maybe the first time since Rex Ryan left for New York three seasons ago, the Ravens' defense looked like its old self on Sunday, both in terms of on-field performance and swagger. There have been a few strong performances in the last couple years, but none like this.

You know all the figures by now: the number of points the Ravens allowed matched their number of turnovers forced (seven), they held the Steelers to just a 33 percent third-down conversion rate, and they gave up only 66 rushing yards.

Chuck_Pagano-John_Harbaugh-tall.jpgSure sounds like the Ravens' defense of old, doesn't it?

Pagano might not have been Ryan-like in terms of sending eight defenders at the quarterback or creating chaos at the line of scrimmage on every snap, but he was his own brand of aggressive. Linebacker Jarret Johnson said Pagano's way of hiding his blitzes and disguising them as coverage was key, and his style of rotating personnel and switching packages kept his players fresh.

The Ravens rarely went with the three-man rush which often used in the last two seasons under Greg Mattison; in fact, the only time I personally recall seeing just three Ravens rush the quarterback came early in the second quarter. That play resulted in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders.

"Chuck, he stayed with the pressure package," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "The one time we went coverage, it bit us. We were like, '(Screw) it, we're going pressure all day.' That's what we did."

That covers the X's and O's stuff. But what is it about Pagano that gets these type of results with basically the same defensive personnel that the Ravens have had the last couple seasons? Those who know the 50-year-old say it's his engaging personality (I think this picture says it all) and clear love for the game of football which help him maximize the talent that each defender possesses.

"I can't say enough about him," outside linebacker Paul Kruger said. "He's the type of coach that allows you to play your game, but under his direction. He makes it fun, he makes it exciting. I think he's a great leader, and somebody you want to play your hardest for. He's brought the fun to the defense.

"I think we've become a lot closer as a unit in the last month or two, and I think that has been in large part (due) to Chuck Pagano."

Whether you're talking to a player or one of Pagano's fellow coaches, everyone who's asked about the Ravens' new defensive play-caller can't help but rave about him. Ed Reed is unbelievably tight with Pagano. Suggs says he'll play his heart out for him. And head coach John Harbaugh insists he's as big a Pagano fan as there is.

"I think Chuck's a great leader, and he's a tremendous coach," Harbaugh told me Sunday. "We've got a bunch of leaders among our players, but Chuck's the main leader. He's very talented, he's got a great personality, but above all that, he's a great teacher. All the other stuff you can talk about is very valid, because he's fun to be around and all that, but he's a great teacher of football.

"He doesn't get bogged down in self-doubt and things like that. He's just an aggressive and fun guy to be around. He teaches football. He gives them good stuff. He gives them stuff that makes them better as players, and to me that's what a great coach does. And he's a great coach."

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