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Expect Continuity with Defense


Under former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, the Ravens were absolutely lights out against the run.

It has been 35 games since the Ravens gave up a 100-yard rusher.

On that day, back on Dec. 10, 2006, Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson totaled 120 yards on 23 carries.

This weekend, when the Ravens meet Kansas City in the 2009 opener, Johnson will still be in the Chiefs' backfield. And he'll face Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg and Co., basically the same players that allowed him to have such a big day.

The biggest difference is the presence of new Ravens coordinator Greg Mattison.

But just like the stout Ravens defense of old, Mattison and everyone else working at team headquarters in Owings Mills, Md., believes the streak of century shutouts will continue.

"I think that's really important to us," Mattison said. "We don't ever want anybody to run the football against us. It so happens that this running back [Johnson] was the last one to do it in 2006, and that's been brought up, but it doesn't matter.

"We've always said our defense is based on No. 1 stopping the run. I think any good defense has to do that. It tells the character of your team, it tells the toughness of your team, and so we don't ever want anybody to feel like they can run the football on us."

That mantra comes from Ryan and his predecessors, Mike Nolan and Marvin Lewis.

It continues with Mattison.

Working under Ryan last year as the linebackers coach, Mattison helped forge the NFL's second-ranked unit, one that gave up only 179.7 yards per game.

Now that Ryan left to become head coach of the New York Jets, the defense goes to Mattison, a long-respected collegiate defensive coordinator at Michigan, Notre Dame and Florida.

Judging from the preseason, Mattison is not changing much. Built on a commitment to stopping the run and utilizing his playmakers' best talents, the Ravens led the NFL in total defense through four preseason games, allowing 236.8 yards per game.

Baltimore also led the league in passing defense, allowing a measly 147.2 passing yards per game.

For Lewis, who has been in Baltimore for all four defensive coordinators in franchise history, the players are a major factor in that stability from year to year.

"I've said it time and time again: Do you love Rex? Yeah, but Rex has never made a play when you step on the field. No defensive coordinator has," said the 10-time Pro Bowler. "Bottom line, the players make plays. We have a corps of guys around here who [are] dedicated to each other. Any time you have that type of chemistry inside, it's almost impossible not to come back and have the same defense.

"That's why this defense has been successful year in and year out doing the things we've been able to do so well."

Since that encounter in 2006, the Ravens look essentially the same up the middle. Ngata and Gregg will start at defensive tackle. Lewis is back for his 14th season in purple and black.

Tavares Gooden may be filling in for Bart Scott, but his speed sideline-to-sideline has him dragging down ball-carriers at an impressive rate. The Miami product was second on the team with 13 preseason stops and first with two sacks.

In fact, the two safeties that started back then and will start on Sunday, Ed Reed and Dawan Landry, haven't had to help in run support as much because of Baltimore's stout front.

"Those guys up there, the D-tackles, the linebackers, they are making plays," Landry said. "We help with the run, but we don't have to do much with the guys we have on this team."

That mentality only helps the transition from Ryan to Mattison. The coach may be different, but most of the players are the same.

The mind-set definitely is.

"What you find out in our meetings that makes the Ravens defense so special is they have to be accountable to each other," Mattison said. "As you're watching the tap and you put the red dot on a player, that does something good or something bad, you're going to hear echoes throughout that room of 'great job' or 'Hey, that's not how we do it.' It's other people always talking in there, not just the coach.

"That's the thing we keep talking about, the Ravens and their attitude."

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