Ravens tight end Nick Boyle loved it when Wink Martindale would walk into the weight room as Baltimore's defensive coordinator. Martindale was always energetic, ready to pump iron and talk football.
"He'd be wearing those black gloves, talking to everybody," Boyle said smiling. "Great dude, great personality."
Now in his first season as Giants Defensive Coordinator, Martindale has been game-planning all week to face his former team on Sunday. In Boyle's opinion, how badly does Martindale want to beat the Ravens (3-2) when they face the Giants (4-1) at MetLife Stadium?
"Aw man," Boyle said smiling again. "Wink's a competitor, man. Anyone who's been with a team as long as he was with us? At this level? You're going to want to win. That's going to make this game even more exciting."
It's the game within the game – Martindale brewing up his blitz packages against Lamar Jackson, a quarterback who knows Martindale's modus operandi after practicing against his defenses for four years.
No NFL defensive coordinator loves blitzing as much as Martindale. In his four seasons as Baltimore's coordinator, the Ravens led the league in blitz percentage three times, and Martindale has not changed his stripes with New York.
According to profootballreference.com, the Giants have blitzed an NFL-leading 43.3 percent of the time season, far more than the Ravens, who rank 21st in blitz percentage at 24.4 precent. Martindale even blitzed frequently during a preseason game this year against the Patriots, irking their Head Coach Bill Belichick.
But will Martindale throw a change-up against Jackson and blitz less often than usual, especially after Jackson carved up the Dolphins' blitz in Week 2 throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns?
Jackson isn't sure, but he knows to be ready for anything facing a Martindale defense.
"Ain't no telling," Jackson said. "Coach 'Wink' is known for exotic blitzes and just doing his thing.
"[I've been doing] a lot of studying and going against (Martindale) all the time in practices since my rookie season. Those guys are doing a great job at all types of blitzes. Different guys trapping with the blitz, cover-zero blitzes and stuff like that."
The timing and complexity of Martindale's blitzes make them effective. He'll blitz an inside linebacker on one play, a cornerback on the next play, and use multiple formations to disguise his intentions. After the Giants defeated the Packers on Sunday, future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers was effusive in his praise of Martindale.
"I have a ton of respect for Wink," Rodgers said on the Pat McAfee Show. "I think he's a fantastic coach. They got a good scheme, they have really good players. But they're aggressive, they come after you. They had a lot of different pressures. They had edge pressure, they had overload pressure, they had empty pressure. They threw a lot at us."
But blitzing and leaving defensive backs in one-on-one coverage can lead to big plays if the blitz doesn't get to the quarterback. Jackson has several advantages that could help him foil the Giants' blitz packages. He knows Martindale's tendencies and Jackson is also the NFL's most dynamic running quarterback. If Jackson escapes the pocket when the Giants are blitzing, they may not catch him before the end zone.
However, Jackson's job beating the blitz could become more difficult if wide receiver Rashod Bateman (foot) misses his second straight game. Bateman's ability to release quickly off the line of scrimmage and beat one-on-one coverage served as a blitz beater against the Dolphins. He had his most productive game of the seasons with four catches for 108 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown catch and run.
As long as they win, the Ravens won't care how much Martindale blitzes. The Ravens (3-2) want to get on a roll after beating the Bengals in Week 5, while the Giants (4-1) have plenty of early-season momentum and know this game means a little extra to their new defensive coordinator.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Martindale said he harbored no ill will toward the Ravens and was "reenergized" by his move to New York after spending 10 years on Baltimore's coaching staff.
"I always believe that where you're at is where you're supposed to be," Martindale said. "John and I had conversations way back before they made the announcement about where we wanted to be and what we wanted to do. It has reenergized me to go someplace new and try to build it again. We're family, John and I. It was nothing negative. It was just time for both of us.
"I have a lot of friends on the other side. A lot of people that meant a lot to me in my life. I have a deep love for a lot of people over there."
Martindale said Thursday that "this is just the next game." However, Ravens players know Martindale's presence on the opposite sideline will add emotion to Sunday's game.
"I know he's got this one circled," linebacker Patrick Queen said. "It's going to be a good game. Just go out there and outplay their defense."
Veteran defensive tackle Calais Campbell knows what it's like to face a team that you once played with. It stirs up feelings. The Ravens will face a team that is playing well, and a defensive coordinator who knows them well.
It's up to the Ravens to meet that challenge, and Campbell believes Baltimore's offense will be ready for whatever Martindale cooks up. But the intensity will be high. When Martindale sent the blitz against Jackson during Ravens' practices, the defense wouldn't hit Jackson. On Sunday, the Giants will be hitting.
"He's definitely going to have the troops riled up," Campbell said. "I know this means something to him, it's only natural. We're human beings by nature. You come back or get to face your old team, it definitely just gives you a little bit more of an edge. So, I know this was circled on the calendar.
"I think it's going to be fun. I can't wait to see what Lamar does. In practice, we go against him a lot, and there are days when he dominates us, and there are days when we dominate. So, I think he knows the defense very well, and I think that should, hopefully, give us some kind of advantage. We'll see. But it's going to be a fun matchup."