Each week, we've brought you a Q&A with a Ravens player to help you learn a little more about the team. Today is a little different in that the guest is defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who guided the defense to its eighth consecutive top-10 ranking in the NFL in average yards allowed and 11th in the last 12 years. Mattison said the defense is taking steps toward reaching its peak, that three-man rushes have not been eliminated from the defensive game plan, and that he can't wait for the day when Ed Reed becomes a coach.
Question: Is this defense playing at its peak right now?
Answer: No, I don't think we're at our peak. I think what's happening is we've eliminated some mistakes. Even throughout this year when people were judging us and saying, 'You didn't play very well,' I look at the first game against Cleveland and everybody talked about [running back Peyton] Hillis running the football. It was three plays. Other than that, it wasn't a great game, but it wasn't awful either. So I think like any defense, you want them to be playing better as the year goes on. Whether you ever peak or not, I don't ever want to say that because then that means that you've reached your limit, and I don't think our guys would ever want that. I think they always feel they can play better.
Q: Then is the defense taking the right steps to demonstrate improvement to you?
A: Definitely. I've been so proud of our defensive guys because they've been so studious as far as making sure they cover all the bases, making sure that there's nothing on that field where they didn't concentrate or they didn't get in their meetings or they didn't do what they were supposed to. That's a mark of a great defense, and that all goes back to the pride in that locker room, that there's not a guy on that field that ever wants to let his teammates down.
Q: After the 30-24 win against the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 19, coach John Harbaugh said the defense needed to maintain its "personality" as a pressure defense. Are you making a conscious effort while crafting the weekly game plan to reflect that identity?
A: Yeah, we're making a conscious effort because that's what we've always wanted to do. I think what's happened is, you see [cornerbacks] Lardarius Webb, Chris Carr and Josh [Wilson] all playing at such a high level right now. They're playing better and that allows us to pressure more. Throughout the injuries — with Lardarius still coming back — I maintain that's one of the reasons why I didn't want to hang them out. Now they've grabbed it and said they're ready to go, and I think [free safety] Ed Reed coming back and being healthy allows us to do those kinds of things. That's always been our identity. It's just that we haven't been able to fully use it throughout the season because I'm always going to do — and in my mind, this is my job — what's best for us to help us win. Sometimes, if that means not pressuring them all the way even though I would like to, I'm going to do that. Now our guys have really stepped up and are doing it.
Q: So does that mean that the days of sending three-man rushes are a thing of the past?
A: No. I don't think that's a non-option for any defense. You see the way offenses have changed where they'll go five-wide, they'll spread you out, and if you try to pressure against that every time, they'll pick you apart. So you have to mix. You've got to be able to mix between a three, a four, a five, a six. You've got to be able to never let them know what you're giving them, but know that there's always a possibility of that pressure coming.
Q: Heading into the season, the cornerback position was the defense's biggest question mark. Do you feel vindicated by the way that unit has played this season?
A: I'm very, very proud and pleased with the way our corners have come on. Chris Carr has had a very, very steady and solid season, Lardarius coming back, Josh, Cary Williams has stepped up to be a guy that can help us now. So there's no question that what they've done over these last four or five games is probably one of the biggest keys.
Q: Do you feel that the secondary's performances have proved the doubters wrong?
A: It really doesn't bother me who doubts and who doesn't. I know what I and the rest of the coaches see every day on the film, and again, I know my picture of what I want. I want to see them coming off the field and shaking hands because they've won. Whatever it takes to do that, that's what we'll always do.
Q: Is outside linebacker Terrell Suggs dropping into coverage or is he crashing the quarterback on every play?
A: He's doing both. He's doing like he's always done. I've always felt that I didn't want him dropping as much because he's too effective as a pass rusher. But also in some of our pressures, you have to do that or they'll know every time which way the pressure is coming from.