Pagano has Ravens in attack mode
If the Ravens upset the Patriots today, it will be because they made Tom Brady look human.
That’s the way it has been since the 2007 Super Bowl. There has to be pressure. There has to be disguise. Brady has to be made uncomfortable.
In short, the Ravens have to execute. Flawlessly.
Some of it will have to do with the performances of linebackers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, safety Ed Reed, and cornerback Lardarius Webb.
It will have everything to do with Chuck Pagano, the Ravens’ first-year defensive coordinator.
“Let’s go out and wreak havoc.’’
Those were among the first words Pagano spoke a year ago when he was named to his position after Greg Mattison went to the University of Michigan.
They say things happen for a reason. When Mattison departed for family reasons, maybe today was that reason for the Ravens.
Mattison did a fine job in his two seasons as coordinator, but the Ravens had lost their organized chaos mentality that thrived when Rex Ryan directed the defense.
In Ryan’s final season with the Ravens in 2008, Baltimore was second in total defense and 11th with 34 sacks.
In 2010, the Ravens fell to 10th in total defense - first time since 1999 they were outside the top six - and the 27 sacks were the fewest ever for the Ravens.
The Ravens had become stale. The pressures were down, and three-man rushes had become the ire of Ravens fans. Don’t even mention the third-and-19 play in last season’s playoff loss to the Steelers.
All of that is a distant memory.
With Pagano’s attacking and swarming scheme, the Ravens finished third in total defense and sacks (48).
“Chuck has done a great job. Chuck is a great coach,’’ Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s more of a peer relationship in a lot of ways at this level, and they’ve done a great job working together. Chuck is a great example of that. Obviously, it’s been reflected in the way those guys have played.’’
Pagano, 51, has a similar pedigree to Patriots coach Bill Belichick in that they both spent countless hours watching film with their fathers, and sharpened their skills as secondary coaches.
Pagano’s younger brother, John, was named Chargers defensive coordinator last week.
Everyone knows about the legendary skills and mind of Reed. No coach has been more responsible for Reed’s development than Pagano.
As the defensive backs coach at the University of Miami, it was Pagano who helped talk a then-17-year-old Reed out of going to Tulane, and then tutored the Hall of Fame-bound safety to greatness with the Hurricanes.
“He helped with my mental preparation so much,’’ Reed said. “He always got me thinking what could be the next play or what could be the next thing that the offense does. He always kept me thinking ahead and what could possibly come next on the football field.’’
As an assistant coach, Pagano has worked with Dave Wannstedt, Butch Davis, and Larry Coyer.
But nothing has prepared Pagano more for today than the three seasons he spent with Rob (Raiders, 2005-06) and Rex Ryan (’08) - who happen to be part of a very short list of defensive coordinators who have stared down Brady and come out ahead at the end of the day.
“Both of them are very fiery, and I think [there are] a lot of similarities because both are ‘player’ coaches. They really relate to their players and things like that,’’ Lewis said of Pagano and Rex Ryan. “Both are very outgoing. I think Chuck is more settled when it comes to the outside world, but to us, Chuck is Chuck. That’s what we appreciate, and that’s why we’re doing the things we are doing, because of the flexibility he gives us.’’
Pagano uses the same concepts as the Ryan brothers. They want the offense to know that any of the 11 players on the field could blitz at any time. The Ravens will be physical and they will be relentless - the word imprinted on the front of the team’s media guide this season.
“I just told them that when people put on our tape it ought to look like we’ve got 13, 14, 15 guys out there,’’ Pagano said.
As many have seen, Ryan can be his own worst enemy at times. Not just with his bombastic words, but as a play caller. Ryan can be predictably aggressive if things start going against his team.
Pagano, though fiery and not afraid of challenging his players on the sideline, is a more steady hand when it comes to strategy.
“Rex gets a little more emotional with his calls,’’ linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “If you torch Rex, [he’s] going to bring it at you just because you torched him. Chuck is a little more heady about it, but they’re both very aggressive.’’
Defending Brady and his many weapons - Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Deion Branch - will be Pagano’s greatest coaching challenge. He knows this.
“I would have to say so,’’ Pagano said. “[They have] a first ballot Hall of Famer at quarterback; arguably top two or three that’s played this game. [They have] great skill all around, offensive scheme that poses you a ton of problems; not only personnel matchup-wise, but tempo-wise.
“So, our guys understand what lies ahead of us. I would definitely have to say, yeah, this is No. 1.’’
About the only thing that compares on Pagano’s résumé was the 2000 Sugar Bowl when he stepped in for Hurricanes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, who left to coach Rutgers and become Belichick’s college coach of choice.
The Hurricanes beat Steve Spurrier’s Fun-N-Gun Gators, 37-20.
That might as well be Pop Warner compared to the Patriots’ offense.
“There are times where they’re going to speed things up, and play speed ball,’’ Pagano said. “The tempo is going to dictate that you get lined up and you get in position. There’s a ton of tape that we’ve seen that they’re on the ball, they’re snapping the ball, and guys are still running around trying to get lined up; not only front guys, but guys in the back end trying to find their coverage. They steal a ton of plays that way. There’s going to be, certainly, opportunities for us.
“You just can’t sit. You try to do everything you can to try to disguise and hide what you’re doing. At the end of the day, if we just sit and play one or two things, and let the tempo of the thing dictate what we do, then [Brady will] shred us, he’ll pick us apart. They’re just too good. So, we’ve got to do as good a job as we possibly can, and at the same time be able to get lined up and play our responsibility, too.’’
Those around the league who know Pagano are sure he’s ready for this challenge. He is meticulous in his preparation. His players express affection for him as a person, and love playing for him.
“We have a new [defensive] coach now and he is amazing!’’ Lewis shouted after the Ravens beat Ryan and the Jets, 34-17, this season.
This is the day Pagano has been waiting for his entire coaching life. You’d think the pressure might get to him - he did look visibly tired this week - but then you see linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo tweet a picture of Pagano with a Ravens helmet strapped on, in a football stance gritting his teeth.
Will his players execute as instructed?
They must to have any chance of an upset.