As much as Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees wants to treat Sunday's showdown against the Patriots like any other game, he knows that simply isn't the case.
Pees spent six years in New England, four as the team's defensive coordinator. Now in his first year as the Ravens' defensive coordinator, Pees' unit has a chance to stop the vaunted Patriots offense and pick up a critical early-season victory.
"I'm not going to lie about that and act like it's just another game," Pees said on Thursday. "It's a big game for me."
"It's kind of like when you go out and you play golf against somebody and you want to win, but when you play your brothers, you really want to win," he said.
Pees coached in New England from 2004-2009, and led the defense from 2006-2009. The Patriots defense was one of the top 10 in the NFL during Pees' tenure, but he decided to leave New England after the 2009 season to become the Ravens' linebackers coach.
The Ravens and Patriots have squared off twice since Pees came to Baltimore, and the Patriots have come out on top in both contests. He still has a number of friends within the Patriots organization, and said that he expects an emotional atmosphere on Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
"There are a lot of friends over there on the other sideline, a lot of old colleagues, a lot of players that I coached," Pees said. "It's an emotional game. It always is."
One of the people that Pees is still close with is Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick.
"My relationship with him is great," Pees said. "We still speak on occasions when we're playing a team that's a common opponent and we aren't playing each other. In certain years, we'll discuss things. It's a great relationship."
Belichick was also complimentary of his former defensive coordinator during his conference call with the Baltimore media.
"Dean's a very experienced coach," Belichick said. "He's done very well at a lot of different levels. [He] did a good job for us here – coached the linebackers, coached the secondary, was the defensive coordinator, and had a great experience on that side of the ball."
Pees took over for Chuck Pagano after he left to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. With Pees now at the helm, the Ravens have introduced some nuances to their scheme.
"He has a couple different wrinkles from what we saw last year as well," Belichick said. "I wouldn't say they're major but I would say they're definitely significant; put a little different twist to it for us.
"I don't think we're seeing anything revolutionary; things that are a little different from some of the things they did last year or things they're doing more of this year – wrinkles in their dime package and things like that. It's not anything that we've never seen before."
While the Ravens defense is off to an uncharacteristic start by giving up 808 yards of total offense through the first two games, Belichick said that the Ravens always have one of the league's top defenses and he expects Pees to maintain that kind of success.
"[They] have had a number of different coaches, a number of changes personnel-wise on the defensive side of the ball through the years, but they have always been very competitive, played well, one of the best teams in the league defensively," Belichick said. "I don't see that changing."
Leaders of the Ravens defense, like linebacker Ray Lewis, have said they aren’t worried about where the unit ranks this early in the season.
And in terms of Sunday's game, Pees has earned the respect of his players and the importance for this one isn't lost on them.
"As a defensive unit, we want to come in and win this game for him, dominate for him, just as a gift from us to him," defensive tackle Terrence Cody said.