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Pagano's predecessor, Greg Mattison, is a fine football coach. In his new job as the defensive coordinator at the University of Michigan under first-year Head Coach Brady Hoke, the Wolverines are 5-0 and Mattison's defense has allowed just 10 points per game.
But Mattison rightfully took heat in Baltimore for playing too cautiously at times. The Ravens didn't storm opposing backfields enough, didn't apply enough heat. And while they held their own at the corners with undersized veterans such as Carr and Josh Wilson, they didn't physically attack.
Hired to "wreak havoc" (his words), Pagano surveyed his corners when camp started and saw the potential in the taller, edgier Williams. Long before Carr and Foxworth were sidelined by injuries, Pagano stuck Williams at one corner and told him, "You are my guy" – something Mattison never would have done.
Then he stuck Smith at the other corner and watched the rookie blossom through the exhibition preseason. When Smith went down with a sprained ankle in the opener, Webb was inserted. Pagano seeing not the guy who got beat in Pittsburgh, but a feisty young player who can jump through the roof.
Supported by Pagano's amped-up pressure, the corners have played magnificently in the first four games, Tennessee hiccup notwithstanding. They're fitting right into the plan for the defense to be more aggressive, punishing and opportunistic.
They're rewarding Pagano for having faith in them.
It's no small thing for an athlete to know his coach believes in him, has his back, relishes the idea of playing him. And while Pagano is getting love in NFL circles for his plan to bring more heat in 2011, he is getting love in the Ravens' locker room for showing more faith in more players.
He is spinning a slew of guys on and off the field – Paul Kruger, Art Jones, Pernell McPhee, the latter a 2011 fifth-round pick who has played his way into the rotation. Three safeties are in the secondary on some plays, and on others, Danny Gorrer jumps in at a corner and Webb plays nickel.
"We're constantly rolling guys in, which we've never really done before," linebacker Jarret Johnson said after Sunday night's demolition of the Jets. "I've never come off the field before, but now, Kruger is rolling in, we're rolling in DBs. The interior, with McPhee and Jones coming in, made some huge plays at the end. It just shows the potential we have."
Late Sunday night, Ray Lewis was asked about Rex Ryan and lauded his former coordinator for the millionth time.
"But we have a new (defensive) coach now and he is amazing!" Lewis said, sounding more like a middle schooler in love for the first time than a 16-year NFL vet.
Faith can be a powerful thing.
John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*