Pro Bowl Defense Having Fun

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Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison knows he is at a disadvantage heading into this Sunday's Pro Bowl.

Leading the AFC's collection of all-star defenders in Hawaii this week, Mattison resigns himself to the fact that the odds are stacked against his unit. Over the past 10 years, the Pro Bowl has generated an average of 64.6 points per game, which is a calculated effort by the NFL to spark excitement in the annual winter classic.

The league puts a limit on what packages defenses can run. Teams cannot blitz the quarterback.

And, there is the general feeling of goodwill that exists in what is essentially a vacation from the grueling 17-plus week season.

So while 64.6 points per game would be a daunting number to any defensive coach, this may be the first and only time Mattison cares less about the outcome than he does about having fun.

"The game is clearly set up for a lot of points," said Mattison. "We've got specific rules where we can only play certain defenses, and you can't bring pressure. You're kind of handcuffed that way.

"But, it's for the fans. You want to see a lot of excitement out there, and we understand that."

To Mattison, who is part of a Ravens' contingent that earned a Pro Bowl trip for advancing to the AFC Championship, simply interacting with the best in the league has been an enjoyable experience.

"It's been exciting to see all these players that you had a chance to play against and watch on film, and to see them out of their element," he said. "The thing that has really stood out to me is that they're all great people. They're professionals, they're very mature and they go about their business like we want them to before going out to relax.

"This game is a reward for how they've done, and I think that's what you see out there."

Of course, Mattison does not have to look far to see the fruits of his handiwork from the 2008 campaign. Before he was promoted to coordinator last Monday, Mattison tutored Baltimore's linebackers and helped Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs earn their 10th and third Pro Bowls, respectively.

Lewis and Suggs are joined by safety Ed Reed, fullback Le'Ron McClain and special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo. Reed, however, will not play because of a shoulder injury.

Noting that this is the longtime college coach's first-ever foray into the pro All-Star showcase, Mattison was especially impressed with the way many of the younger players seem to gravitate to Lewis.

"There is an instant respect with him," Mattison said of the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "He has a lot of acquaintances with these players already, and you can tell that when you stand off and watch. Many of those guys immediately go to Ray. I think they are very appreciative that he's there, and you can sense the respect they have for him."

Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan agreed.

"Growing up and everything, Ray Lewis has always been the reason I even try and play the game the way I play it because he plays with intensity and love for it. So to be around him has been great,'' he told The Tennessean.

"He is always willing to give wisdom and knowledge of the game, and I appreciate that.''

Finnegan is part of a defensive backfield that is led by Ravens secondary coach Chuck Pagano.

Pagano has been equally awed by the way his collection of talent has bonded.

"They're all Pro Bowl players, but they're as good of guys that you ever want to be around," Pagano said. "We're fortunate that way, and I'm sure the rest of us coaches would say the same thing. We've had a good tempo, but it's been relaxed, which is well-earned."

While Reed's absence takes away some of Pagano's familiarity with his Pro Bowl charges, he did coach AFC starting cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha as a member of the Oakland Raiders from 2005-06.

The corner was voted in as an alternate two years ago, and Pagano is proud to start him this year. The coach is also proud that Asomugha even made the trip in time to attend the light-hearted practices.

"His first year he went to he Pro Bowl, he found out later in the week, so he tried to get over here from Oakland and couldn't get a flight," Pagano recalled with a laugh. He actually saved the message so he could play it back to me a year later.

"I said, 'You mean to tell me Mr. Davis couldn't get you a plane over there?' I felt like calling him myself. This is his first starting Pro Bowl, and I think he's taking it all in."

And that is what Baltimore's defensive coaches have learned the Pro Bowl is all about – not necessarily the outcome, or racking up gaudy defensive stats.

The stories, the camaraderie and the interaction between regular-season rivals have marked their Hawaiian sojourn.

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