NFL Nation: Dean Pees

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees insists he doesn't have much familiarity with the New England Patriots anymore because it's been five years since he was an assistant in New England. With the amount of injuries and changes on the Ravens' defense this season, there are times you have to wonder how much familiarity Pees has with his own players.

In what has been a masterful job, Pees has guided the Ravens back to being a top-10 defense for the first time since 2011, and he's done so with creativity, practice-squad players and lots of Band-Aids. The Ravens are headed to Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game in New England because of Pees' ability to keep offenses out of the end zone despite sending out a new cast of defenders almost every week.

Consider the challenges that Pees has faced this season:

  • [+] EnlargeDean Pees
    AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyDean Pees took a lot of spare parts and turned the Ravens into one of the best defenses in the league.
    The Ravens have had 11 different starting lineups in 16 regular-season games. The longest stretch a starting lineup remained intact was three weeks.
  • Jimmy Smith, the team's top cornerback, was lost for the last nine games because of a season-ending foot injury, and Haloti Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, was suspended for the final month of the regular season after violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
  • The Ravens went through seven starting cornerbacks because of injuries and poor play, and they rotated four starting safeties throughout the season. Rashaan Melvin, who had been on two practice squads this season and wasn't on an NFL roster for five weeks this season, started at cornerback in the first round of the playoffs.
  • The top two picks of the 2013 draft (safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown) had reduced roles this season because of their struggles, and three of the top four defensive players drafted this season (defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, safety Terrence Brooks and defensive end Brent Urban) missed a total of 26 games because of injuries.

This makes the Ravens' success on defense all that much more remarkable. Only five teams allowed fewer points, no running back ran for 100 yards and only one defense got to the quarterback more often. The Ravens' defense finished No. 8 overall, its best finish since ranking No. 3 in 2011.

"We’ve been through so many different players, and Dean has done a really tremendous job of tailoring the scheme toward what guys can do well," coach John Harbaugh said. "We don’t really look like the same defense every week in a lot of different ways. It’s not like we revamp everything we do, but he’s always going to give an opponent something different that they’re maybe not expecting to help guys play certain situations."

When it comes to defensive coordinators, Ravens fans often talk about Marvin Lewis and Rex Ryan in reverence. But this has been one of the more impressive coaching jobs on the defensive side of the ball.

The defense has had its share of hiccups, from A.J. Green's 77-yard winning touchdown in Week 1 to the six touchdown passes allowed to Ben Roethlisberger in Week 9 to Philip Rivers' 80-yard fourth-quarter winning drive in Week 13. But the Ravens' defense has been the strength of the team down the stretch, giving up two touchdowns in the last 19 quarters.

On Saturday, Pees goes against a Patriots team that he's schemed against five times since leaving New England. He was with the Patriots from 2004 to 2009, serving the last four years as defensive coordinator.

"At this point in time, I don't think I know them as well as everybody thinks I know them," Pees said. "I've been gone for five years. There are two guys on the defense that were there when I was there -- [Vince] Wilfork and [Rob] Ninkovich. The rest of the defense is different [and] every year the offense is different. ... People talk about my familiarity. It's just the fact I know Coach [Bill] Belichick and his coaching staff. Half of those guys are gone. It's been so far removed, it's different."
NEW ORLEANS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 34-27 win over the New Orleans Saints:

Hill
Halftime speech: Defensive coordinator Dean Pees gave the defense "a reality check" with a halftime speech, according to safety Will Hill. "That's all you can call it," he said. "He said we need to tackle, we need to continue to get after the run and said the secondary has to make plays. That's was a wake up call." The Ravens limited the Saints to 10 points and 190 yards in the second half.

Getting Steve Smith involved early: The Ravens made an effort to throw the ball to wide receiver Steve Smith early. In the first quarter, Smith caught three passes for 69 yards and pulled in a 15-yard touchdown catch while falling backward. "Obviously, he's very fiery," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "When you get the ball to him early and get his emotions into it and you keep his head into it for the full 60 minutes, it does really good things for our team." Smith was also involved in an altercation with Kenny Vaccaro, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty on the Saints safety.

Forsett is tough to bring down: Justin Forsett's career-high 182 yards moved him into third in the NFL in rushing. Why is Forsett having so much success this season? "He's not letting guys tackling him in the hole," Flacco said. "He's hitting it quick and getting to it on time. All those things turn a 2-yard runs into 6-yard runs and turns 6-yard runs into big runs."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam is watching quarterbacks complete 76.9 percent of their passes against him. He's giving up an average of 21.4 yards per completion. He's the second-worst safety in terms of coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

But defensive coordinator Dean Pees doesn't think the criticism of Elam is warranted, especially with how he stepped up to play nickelback against the Carolina Panthers.

Elam
"Last week, I thought Matt Elam played real well," Pees said. "We put him in the slot and nickel with very few reps against a good quarterback. I don't know if you guys saw the same film I saw, but there were two passes I don't know who would've defended them. He just put it on the money. Sometimes you got to say, 'Hey, that's the way it was.' We do a lot of stuff, and to throw a guy in a new position and learn it overnight, that's tough to do. My hat's off to Matt."

While Cam Newton did throw some good passes, Elam was slow to react and couldn't make a play on the ball because he was late to turn his head around.

Elam, a first-round pick in 2013, hasn't shown great ball skills. In 20 games, Elam has one interception and has broken up four passes.

"I feel like I could’ve played the ball better," Elam said. "Cam made great throws, but we’re pros and I feel like I should have played the ball better. I came in practice this week and every time I get a chance, I look back and try to play the ball. This is the league. They’re going to make great throws. You just have to make great plays."

What has irritated Pees is the big plays. The Ravens have given up eight passes of 20 or more yards, which is tied for eighth most in the NFL.

These big pass plays -- a 77-yarder from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green and a 28-yarder from Newton to Kelvin Benjamin -- have accounted for two of the five touchdowns allowed by the Ravens defense this season.

"We just can't let him take the top off the defense," Pees said. "That's been the one thing this year that we got to keep improving on. Last week, we played so well and to give up one easy touchdown. To me, they shouldn't have scored any. We gave up just an easy one, a gift. We just got to quit doing that. If we can quit doing that, we can really be a top defense."
A realization hit defensive coordinator Dean Pees when he talked to coach John Harbaugh about the Baltimore Ravens' depth chart this offseason: Only two starters remain from the defense that helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl 17 months ago.

"When you have the [roster] turnover, there’s always a little bit of time for those guys to develop," said Pees, whose only championship holdovers are Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata."But also, just like every team goes through it, you can’t keep the same guys forever."

Change often leads to a transition period especially when you're dealing with the loss of two future Hall of Fame players in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. But change was a necessity for the Ravens. For the first time in 15 years, the Ravens went consecutive seasons without having a top-10 defense. The once-feared group suddenly had become average.

[+] EnlargeHaloti Ngata
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesHaloti Ngata is one of only two defensive holdovers from the starting unit that won the Super Bowl following the 2012 season.
The Ravens needed to get younger, faster and, if their projections are correct, significantly better. A major investment in defense -- their top three draft picks in 2013 and 2014 came on that side of the ball -- has brought an infusion of talent. Four of these players (strong safety Matt Elam, nose tackle Brandon Williams, linebacker C.J. Mosley and free safety Terrence Brooks) have a shot at starting this season.

The Ravens are mixing this youth with two of the best pass-rushers in the league in Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, a couple of emerging cornerbacks in Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith and a "game-wrecker" in the middle with Ngata.

"The expectation for our defense is to be top-five, at the worst," Harbaugh said. "It has always been that way and always will be."

Long before the Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl with defense, the Ravens did so in 2000. Then, from 2003 to 2011, the Ravens boasted a top-10 defense. Dominating defenses became as synonymous with Baltimore as "The Wire."

That streak ended in 2012, when the Ravens defense finished 17th in yards allowed and 12th in points given up. The defense played a integral role in beating the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, especially that final stand in the red zone, but that doesn't erase the fact that the Ravens gave up the second-most yards in team history that year.

The lapses continued last season, when the Ravens ranked No. 12 on defense. If not for the offense finishing near the bottom of the league and Joe Flacco's career-worst 22 interceptions, there would've been more complaining about the defense allowing the most fourth-quarter points in team history.

"Last year, at times, we showed flashes of being a good defense, but then we'd have breakdowns," defensive end Chris Canty said. "We'd have mistakes, we'd have mental errors and those are the things that just can't happen if you want to be successful in the National Football League. ... We have to make sure that we're on top of our game every single play."

Some may suggest the Ravens made mistakes in this year's draft. Based on how the offense struggled last year, it was more of a priority to add a right tackle, wide receiver or running back early in the draft.

After the Ravens chose three defensive players with their first three picks, owner Steve Bisciotti reportedly turned to new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and said: “That’s what we do here. We ask you for your opinion, but then Ozzie [Newsome, general manager] always takes defensive players.”

Although some bemoan what the Ravens didn't address in the draft, the focus should be on the talent they brought in. They have a future Pro Bowl centerpiece in Mosley, an eventual replacement to Ngata in Timmy Jernigan and a speedy free safety in Brooks.

"A young defense is a good thing. I'm excited about it," Harbaugh said. "When we won the Super Bowl, we definitely weren't the fastest defense in the NFL but we had a lot of savvy and had guys who made plays when it counted. What we're lacking in experience, we're going to have to make up for in youthful vigor and speed."

When the Ravens won the Super Bowl, the average age of the starting defense was 29.5 years old. This year's projected starters on defense are nearly 3 years younger.

Now they have to prove they're better.

"We can be really good," Dumervil said. "I think we have the speed and athleticism. We're very versatile. We just have to continue to grind and continue to work, and the sky is the limit."
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The Super Bowl is a long way from the crossroads that led to it.

A long way from the moment when Adam Gase felt doubt creeping in, the moment when he had started to feel he could be many things in his life but a football coach was not one of them.

“I remember sitting in an Applebee's, interviewing for an insurance salesman job," said Gase, the Broncos' offensive coordinator. “And him basically telling me I would have to move back to Mount Pleasant [in Michigan] and me thinking that was what I was going to do."

Yes, the guy who will be on the headset to Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLVIII, the guy who called plays for the highest-scoring offense in NFL history, the guy Manning has called “a superstar" in conversations with some around the team was sitting in a restaurant just minutes from his parents' house, about to call for the check on his coaching career.

[+] EnlargeAdam Gase
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliDenver offensive coordinator Adam Gase almost gave up coaching in his early 20s to sell insurance.
It was just after the LSU Tigers had won the 2001 SEC championship, and Gase, as an “eight grand a year" graduate assistant with student loans staring him in the face to go with the fact he “may or may not have been kicked out of grad school," was contemplating a future that was quickly becoming cloaked in uncertainty.

“It was just kind of that stage," Gase said. “… [LSU] was trying to find a role for me; that's not an easy thing to do at that level. I was back home to see my parents, and there was a part of me that was saying I might not go back [to LSU]."

At least until three friends -- Scott Angove, Nate Lambertson and Jeff Sablack -- who were, as Gase puts it, “beside themselves," got him to reconsider the notion of walking away. So Gase went back to LSU in 2002 and started stepping up the rungs from there. He went to the Detroit Lions, the San Francisco 49ers and the Broncos in the years and nameplates that followed.

He was a scouting assistant, an offensive assistant, a quality control coach, quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach and quarterbacks coach. And then, when Mike McCoy left the Broncos to become the San Diego Chargers coach, Gase, at 34, was named the Broncos' offensive coordinator.

A short, a long and a winding road, all at the same time.

“He's bright -- very, very bright," Broncos coach John Fox said. “We knew his work. We knew how he handled himself. To me, when Mike left, it was a clear choice."

“I know there was a point when I thought it might not work," Gase said. "… I don't really think about sitting there in that interview anymore, but I'm glad I kept going."

Gase is not the product of a playing career that evolved into coaching once the on-field work was done. He is a product of from-the-ground-up work, of rolled-up sleeves to learn a profession. A process that started when he met current Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Gase was in high school, and Pees was at Michigan State.

Pees visited Gase's high school, handed him a business card and said when he arrived at Michigan State the following fall, as a student, he should come to the school's football offices.

“When I was in high school, I enjoyed the sport a lot; I was just terrible at it," Gase said. "… And I think [Pees] was thinking more like equipment manager and that. What ended up happening was Dean said here's my card and come see me when you get on campus.

“… And I showed up, gave the secretary the card. She goes OK, and I sat in [Pees'] office for like an hour and he gave me a self-scout [personnel evaluation] from when he was with the Cleveland Browns. I had just gotten a computer for my graduation, and he said, 'You know how to use a computer?' And I was like, 'I've got a computer' and I hadn't touched it yet. I kind of figured out how to put that together and set it up in my dorm room. I went through a lot of ink cartridges."

That's where it started, the get-it-done side it took to help McCoy dismantle the Broncos' playbook in roughly a week in 2011 and reconfigure it as a read-option attack with Tim Tebow at quarterback. The same guy who helped to then dismantle that when Manning arrived in 2012 and retooled it again when he was promoted to be the team's primary playcaller.

His go-for-it aggressiveness is rooted in Mike Martz's "Greatest Show on Turf" offense that powered the Rams to two Super Bowl appearances. Gase calls Martz “a mentor, a guy who taught me so much." The attention to detail and the respect for the need to play some power football come from his time with former LSU coach Nick Saban to go with some things from Josh McDaniels' Patriots playbook as well as his time with Fox and McCoy that helped him see the bigger picture, the one where he had to understand what defenses were doing and why.

“Adam is just a guy that was ready," McCoy said. “He's smart, creative, works very, very hard, a guy I leaned on a lot in my time in Denver. And you can see he's had a big impact in what they're doing."

What the Broncos did in the regular season was make history. From Manning's statistics to Denver's push-the-pace philosophy to the pile of touchdowns, the Broncos pushed the envelope on offense to a spot that had not been seen before.

None other than John Elway, still considered the final word on most things football for legions of fans across the Front Range, has said “I wish I could have played for him" and characterized Gase's decision not to interview with the Minnesota Vikings and Browns for their head-coaching jobs while the Broncos were still playing as “studly."

“Being somebody that did not play in college or at the professional level, I had to learn as fast as possible," Gase said. “It was an adapt-or-die situation for me. I said that a lot, especially with Peyton. You go from running an option offense to all of a sudden the protections are ‘you've got to be on it.' You have no choice but to figure out a way to speed up that learning curve.”

The curve now has a Super Bowl on it. The one where Gase will call the plays Sunday against the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

A game, an opportunity, that was almost left on the table. At Applebee's.

“I'm grateful for the chance, grateful to everyone who helped me, grateful to be a part of this organization," Gase said. “And I'm excited to be in this position, in this job. It's what I want to do, and you know, it really has worked out OK."

Ravens look to end sack drought

December, 16, 2013
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DETROIT -- The Baltimore Ravens are looking to end a two-game sack drought Monday night against the Detroit Lions.

Not being able to bring down the quarterback is surprising for the Ravens, who had posted at least one sack in the previous 22 games. That tied a franchise record.

Now, the Ravens haven't recorded a sack since Elvis Dumervil ended the 19-3 win over the New York Jets with a sack of Geno Smith. It's a drought of 82 pass attempts without one. It's been a longer stretch for linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has gone five games without a sack.

But defensive coordinator Dean Pees believes the pass rush is making an impact.

"I think you’d be surprised how many times we actually hit the quarterback," Pees said. "When you watch the film, we may not be getting a sack if the ball is coming out quick, and there’s no way a guy can do that. If he can’t get there in time, he can’t get there in time if the ball is coming out quick. But you’re also getting what you want by the ball coming out quick. We’re getting quite a few hits."

There have been other factors in the Ravens' lack of sacks recently. The Ravens had trouble bringing down Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger two games ago and had difficulty getting to Minnesota's Matt Cassel last week because of the snowy field.

It's going to be another challenge for the Ravens to get a sack Monday night, based on the Lions' statistics. Matthew Stafford has been sacked just 15 times in 13 games. It's the fewest sacks on a quarterback who has thrown at least 300 passes this season.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- For their 17 years in Baltimore, this was Ray Lewis' defense. Now, as the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens completed the second week of offseason workouts, this has become a doughnut defense. That is, one with a hole in the middle of it.

Rolando McClain retired before he even practiced for the Ravens. Second-round pick Arthur Brown is sidelined but hopes to return by training camp after undergoing sports-hernia surgery. Jameel McClain has yet to be cleared for full-team drills after a spinal-cord contusion caused him to miss the final three regular-season games of 2012 and all of the playoffs. And Albert McClellan didn't practice Friday because of an undisclosed injury.

Who's left at inside linebacker for the Ravens? Josh Bynes, Nigel Carr, Bryan Hall and Brandon Copeland. All four were undrafted and two of them (Hall and Copeland) are converting from defensive linemen.

The Ravens, though, know they have time to get healthy. There are still three full months before they kick off the regular season at Denver.

[+] EnlargeJameel McClain
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJameel McClain aims to be back at linebacker come the Ravens' Sept. 5 opener at Denver.
"You can go back 50 years, no matter who the linebacker was -- whether it was [Dick] Butkus or whether it’s Ray Lewis -- no matter who it is, someone always ends up stepping up and has to step up to be the next guy in that situation," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said.

This isn't like last season, when Pees and the Ravens knew they would open the season without Terrell Suggs. The hope is that Brown and Jameel McClain will be manning the middle for Baltimore by training camp.

Brown told reporters Friday that he's "making progress daily" and is taking mental reps. Not being on the field during offseason workouts will hurt Brown, who is making the transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme.

McClain has been optimistic about his chances of returning this season. He's been participating in individual drills and there are no restrictions to his training regimen.

"We definitely want Jameel out there," Pees said. "It’s very critical from the standpoint of he’s our leadership out there. He’s kind of the only veteran inside guy that we really have in there."

Despite the injuries, there are high expectations for the Ravens defense. The additions of linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff, defensive lineman Chris Canty along with the return of cornerback Lardarius Webb from a season-ending knee injury should boost a defense that finished No. 17 in the NFL last season, the Ravens' worst defensive ranking since 2002.

Pees was asked if this year's defense will be better than the one that helped Baltimore win a Super Bowl.

"It’s really always unfair to say ahead of time what the defense is going to be," Pees said. "We have to be better than we were last year. We were good in the playoffs -- good enough -- but we weren’t good enough during the season for us to be the kind of defense that we want to be. We have to be better than we were a year ago, I’ll put it that way. I don’t know whether we will be, but we need to be.”
Why would former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison want to go to the rival Baltimore Ravens? Why would he want to join a team that abruptly cut him in 2004?

Well, millions of dollars always helps in ironing out relationships. But, with the Ravens, it's more than that for Harrison. Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees was Harrison's head coach when they were both at Kent State. There's no doubt that Pees has vouched for Harrison.

After off-the-field issues scared away Ohio State and Notre Dame, Harrison went to Kent State without a scholarship and reportedly clashed with Pees early during his time there. Pees demanded that Harrison raise his grades and attend nightly study halls. With Pees' help, Harrison earned a 3.0 grade-point average and made the dean's list.

According to a New York Times article, Harrison "eventually grew so close to Pees that he would show up unannounced at Pees’s home and ask his wife what was for dinner." When Harrison was later inducted into the Kent State Hall of Fame, he credited Pees for his development there.

In reflecting on Pees' influence, Harrison told The Boston Globe in 2009: "He had an open mind with me, and didn’t worry about any of the things I did previous to being there. Once I got there, it was ‘I don’t care about what you’ve done in the past, it’s about right now, and going to judge you from here on out.’ That really helped me."

The Ravens and Harrison's agent are scheduled to have talks Saturday. In Harrison's mind, he isn't looking to join a fierce rival. He's looking to reunite with an old mentor.
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees coached six years with the Patriots. So, what's his secret to slowing down Tom Brady?

"Hire Tonya Harding," Pees joked. "If they were getting off the bus, I’d spray water outside the bus and hope it freezes."

Over the past four meetings with Brady, the Ravens haven't had to resort to extreme measures to make life miserable for him. His 63.1 Total QBR against the Ravens since 2008 (including the playoffs) is his second-worst against any opponent. Brady's only fared worse against the Jets (a QBR of 59.5).

Brady has thrown an interception once every 33 dropbacks against the Ravens since 2008, including the playoffs. That’s the highest interception percentage during that span of the seven quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks against the Ravens, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Pees, who is in his first season as the Ravens' defensive coordinator, understands the challenge of trying to stop Brady.

"He’s as competitive of a person as I’ve ever been around," Pees said. "He can give you this little boyish look on TV, but he is a very, very, very competitive guy. He didn’t even like losing in practice. The more we rode him on defense -- because I had a couple trash-talkers -- the harder he played. He is who he is. He’s going to play well. You expect him to play. We have to do the best job we can, fundamentally, to disrupt him and do some things to him. I have a lot of respect for him. He is a Hall of Fame quarterback.”

Final Word: Ravens at Broncos

January, 11, 2013
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NFC Final Word: Packers-49ers | Seahawks-Falcons AFC: Ravens-Broncos | Texans-Pats

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Baltimore Ravens-Denver Broncos AFC divisional-round game, which will be played at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Denver's Sports Authority Field:

Justify his glove: A quarterback wearing a glove is a fairly common occurrence. But when a quarterback the caliber of Peyton Manning starts to wear a glove, it’s noticeable. When it happens after Manning missed an entire season because of a neck injury that required four surgeries, it is going to be newsworthy. This week, Manning admitted he is wearing the glove as a result of his surgery. He wore the glove in the past two games -- both at home -- because he has had difficulty gripping the ball in the cold. Snow is a possibility Saturday, and temperatures may dip below 20 degrees at game time. Expect to see the glove make its third appearance. If the first two games are any indication, Denver shouldn’t be worried about the fit: Manning has thrown for 643 yards, six touchdowns and one interception while wearing the glove.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsWearing a glove to combat the Denver chill hasn't slowed Peyton Manning his past two games.
Is Rice suddenly a fumbler? There is a curious trend developing for Baltimore running back Ray Rice. Once the postseason begins, the normally ball-secure Rice becomes vulnerable to fumbling. Rice has seven fumbles in 1,527 touches in his regular-season career. But after fumbling twice Sunday against the Colts, Rice has fumbled five times in 152 touches in the playoffs. Nothing can unravel an upset bid on the road in the playoffs like a key fumble. It will be something Rice and the entire Denver crowd will be thinking about Saturday.

Pees has playoff experience against Manning: Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees was an assistant coach in New England from 2004-09 and faced Manning in the postseason twice, winning once and losing once. This week on ESPN’s “NFL Live,” another former Bill Belichick defensive assistant, Eric Mangini, said Pees’ time planning for Manning with Belichick's playoff staffs could come in handy. Mangini said there were times when Belichick changed an entire defensive scheme against Manning at halftime to get an edge. Thus, Mangini said, Pees is adept at doing what it takes to try to stop Manning in the playoffs.

Will the Ravens be worn down? Denver will try to strike quickly and set the tone. Expect to see some fast-paced, no-huddle offense against what could be a fatigued Ravens defense. Baltimore had a short week after beating the Colts on Sunday -- after which the Ravens had to travel west into the thin air of Denver. The Colts ran 87 offensive plays and kept the ball for 37 minutes, 32 seconds Sunday. All of these factors could come into play Saturday.

Will Caldwell give different looks? When Denver beat the Ravens 34-17 in Baltimore in Week 15, it was the Ravens’ first game with Jim Caldwell as their offensive coordinator. Manning’s former head coach in Indianapolis was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator after the firing of Cam Cameron. Caldwell’s offense was anemic against Denver, which took a 31-3 lead into the fourth quarter. The unit has made some strides in the three games since, meaning that Denver should expect to see an improved Baltimore offense.

Pressure point: Ravens

May, 16, 2012
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NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Baltimore Ravens and why.

Four of the the Ravens' five defensive coordinators in their history have gone on to become head coaches. Baltimore's defense has ranked in the top six in eight of the past nine years. So, there's tremendous pressure on new defensive coordinator Dean Pees to uphold the standard of excellence.

His job became much more difficult when linebacker Terrell Suggs, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, tore his Achilles. He also faces the delicate situation of how to handle team leaders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, both of whom showed their age toward the end of last season. Then, add in the season-ending stretch where Baltimore faces seven Pro Bowl quarterbacks in its final eight games (they also account for five Super Bowl rings).

Pees is familiar with strong defenses. He spent the past two seasons as the Ravens’ linebackers coach after a six-year stint helping run Bill Belichick’s defense in New England. During Pees’ four-year tenure as defensive coordinator (2006-09), the Patriots were the only team in the NFL to finish in the top 10 in scoring defense each season. He now gets the keys to an aggressive Baltimore defense that ranked third in the NFL in sacks (48) and first in forced fumbles (21) last season.

In taking over the Ravens' defense, Pees called it a "humbling" opportunity. It's also a challenging one to follow in the footsteps of Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan and Chuck Pagano.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When linebackers coach Dean Pees was promoted to the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Friday, he said it was a "humbling" opportunity. He also knows it is an opportunity filled with high expectations.

The Baltimore defense has finished in the league's top 10 for nine straight seasons, including six in the top 5. Three of the previous four Ravens defensive coordinators have gone on to become NFL head coaches.

[+] EnlargeDean Pees
AP Photo/Wade PayneDean Pees will be expected to continue Baltimore's dominance on defense.
This isn't like taking over the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator job. The Ravens are expected to be the top defense every season, and that's exactly what coach John Harbaugh said while sitting next to Pees at the news conference.

"The tradition of this defense will continue, and it will flourish and it will even get better," Harbaugh said. "It will be in Coach Pees’ hands."

So, the keys of the defense were officially handed over to Pees, and so has the responsibility of maintaing the Ravens' aggressive approach. If the defense fails to put pressure on the quarterback, the pressure will fall on Pees.

He has the challenge of following Chuck Pagano, who left to become the Indianapolis Colts' head coach. In one season under Pagano, the Ravens went from a team record-low 27 sacks to finishing tops in the AFC.

"You’re going to see a fiery Dean Pees," Harbaugh said. "You’re going to see an aggressive defense just like we’ve seen in the past. We’ll be getting after people. That’s the plan. That’s not going to change. We’re going to build on that."

Pees' track record says he will handle the job. When Pees was the Patriots' defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2009, New England ranked in the top 10 in fewest points allowed each season. But there were mixed results as far as where the Patriots ranked in sacks during that four-year period: 5th (2006), 2nd (2007), 14th (2008) and 23rd (2009).

Pees went immediately from being the Patriots defensive coordinator to Ravens linebackers coach last season, a move that has drawn many questions about his departure from New England. "I decided not to go back there," Pees said. "I was not fired. I decided to explore other avenues and this was a great avenue to explore."

Harbaugh also announced that Cam Cameron will return for his fifth season as the team's offensive coordinator, saying it was "a foregone conclusion" that he was coming back. There had been speculation that Cameron would not be retained after the Ravens' offense finished a disappointing 15th in the NFL this season.

"We’ve got to get better with the chemistry in the passing game, which will come," Cameron said. "I think you saw progress."
The Ravens players thought they might lose a coordinator this offseason. But everyone thought it would be Cam Cameron and not Chuck Pagano.

Losing Pagano -- who was named the Colts new head coach today -- is a a big shock and a big blow to a Ravens' defense. He did more than take Baltimore from being the 10th-ranked defense to the third-ranked one. Pagano brought back the swagger to the Ravens defense that had lost its way.

Changing defensive coordinators is nothing new to the Ravens. They've maintained success in going from Marvin Lewis to Mike Nolan to Rex Ryan. But it's different with losing Pagano. There's an uneasiness now because of what preceded him.

Before Pagano took over the defense, Baltimore rarely blitzed and recorded a team record-low 27 sacks in 2010 under coordinator Greg Mattison. In their first season under Pagano, the Ravens went on attack mode and finished first in the AFC with 48 sacks.

The frontrunner to replace Pagano is linebackers coach Dean Pees, who was the Patriots defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2009. The Ravens could also look at defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.

Whoever it is, the new coordinator can't allow the aggressiveness on defense to leave with Pagano, who wasn't afraid to blitz linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks. Under Pagano, the Ravens defense played like the one of old. Pressuring the quarterback led to turnovers, which led to easy scores. The Ravens led the NFL with 21 forced fumbles this season, which was three more than any other team.

The Ravens took the personality of Pagano, who took pride in being a gambler when it comes to defense.

"My motto's always been: They can fire you but they can't eat you," Pagano said during the season. "If we go down, we're going down saying we put it all out there. Not that we want to be stupid. We have to take calculated risks. But we will let the fur fly."

The Ravens' challenge isn't finding another defensive coordinator. They have to find another risk-taker.

One-on-one with Bill Belichick

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
7:45
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The New England Patriots won't have an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator or special-teams coordinator in 2010.

Even so, head coach Bill Belichick doesn't plan on being any busier this year than he has in the past.

Belichick, in a one-on-one interview with ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, addressed several topics and explained for the first time why he decided to drop coordinators from his staff.

"I'm not going to take on more workload," Belichick told Reiss at the NFL owners meetings. "It just might be distributed a little differently. That's the way it's been in the past. My workload hasn't changed in the last 10 years. It's been distributed differently, from year to year, or even within a year, within different time frames of the year -- between personnel and football, or offense, defense and special teams as it relates just to football."

Reiss reports Belichick will conduct the defensive meetings former defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to run. Quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien will remain influential on the offensive strategy.

Belichick also discussed the Patriots' approach to free agency. They concentrated on re-signing their players and didn't pursue much outside help.

"Some of the best players in free agency this year were Patriots," Belichick said. "We re-signed a number of them, and a couple we didn't. The players that we did re-sign are quality players, and I'm glad we have them."

Other topics Reiss asked Belichick about included the disappointment of 2009, the status of outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, the Patriots reportedly playing the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving and the organization's pre-draft evaluation process.

Rex Ryan monitoring Bills' 3-4 switch

February, 28, 2010
2/28/10
10:45
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INDIANAPOLIS -- New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is keeping an eye on the Buffalo Bills' defensive makeover.

The Bills are converting from a 4-3 defense under new head coach Chan Gailey and coordinator George Edwards. That will turn the AFC East into a unanimous 3-4 division.

The Bills ran a Tampa 2 defense under former head coach Dick Jauron and his interim replacement, Perry Fewell.

Ryan, considered one of the finest 3-4 masterminds, noted the transformation can be smooth.

"I guess that depends on 'Are you changing coverages or is it just the front you are changing?'" Ryan said Saturday at the NFL scouting combine in Lucas Oil Stadium. "There are several different versions of a 3-4. But it depends on your style.

"If the coverages are staying the same, it probably is not as big of a change as what you might think."

The problem for Buffalo, however, is that they're missing the centerpiece of a 3-4 defense: a monstrous nose tackle to stuff the run.

"That might be one of the toughest parts of a 3-4," Ryan said.

Ryan went on to explain why.

(Football jargon alert! "Two-gap responsibility" means a defensive lineman is responsible for either opening beside the offensive lineman in front of him. "A-gap" means the area on either side of the center, a location where defensive linemen frequently will get double-teamed by a center and a guard.)

"If you are playing a standard 3-4 defense, then you got a two-gap responsibility, which means you got to be able to play the front-side A-gap and the backside A-gap at the same time," Ryan said.

"You generally need a dominant individual there. And that is what you have like a Kris Jenkins. A Ted Washington many years ago in Buffalo was one of the best two-gappers I have ever seen.

"A guy has to be active, got to be able to stay on his feet, his technique on releasing off of blocks has got to be outstanding. If not, you are really going to struggle at that spot."

The Jets are the only AFC East team that didn't make a change at defensive coordinator.

The Miami Dolphins fired Paul Pasqualoni and snatched Mike Nolan away from the Denver Broncos. Although the New England Patriots' defense belongs to head coach Bill Belichick, coordinator Dean Pees stepped down in January.

Nolan was the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator when Ryan was their defensive line coach. When Nolan left to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, Ryan was appointed defensive coordinator.

Ryan, never afraid to throw out a challenge, was deferential when asked about facing Nolan twice a year.

"He's outstanding," Ryan said. "He's one of the top coordinators in the league. I learned a ton working under Mike for several years. He's one of my favorite guys. That was a great hire.

"He's always had a well-coached team that really gets after it. I'm sure that's the way it'll be. It's going to be tough."

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