We’re a week removed from the Seattle Seahawks choosing former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald as head coach. As defensive coordinator, Macdonald guided the Ravens back to their familiar territory atop the NFL’s defensive rankings, and the 36-year-old quickly became a highly coveted head coaching candidate.
It’s a hell of a task for a first-time head coach to replace Pete Carroll, who guided the team to its first Super Bowl and a slew of winning seasons and playoff appearances. Is Macdonald up to the challenge? We’ll find out soon. In the meantime, I’ve dusted off the 5Qs/5As game preview series for a special edition with Baltimore Beatdown managing editor and beat reporter Kyle Phoenix, who has some great insights on Macdonald as a coach and a locker room leader. Enjoy!
1.) Mike Macdonald succeeded Wink Martindale, who had a good track record in Baltimore (at least I think he did) and developed a well-earned reputation for a lot of blitzing. Baltimore is bottom-half of the league in blitz rate in both seasons under Macdonald. What are some of the other differences that separate Macdonald’s defenses from Wink’s?
I believe the strongest difference in what Macdonald did differently than Don “Wink” Martindale was his approach. Wink was “live by the sword, die by the sword.” He would blitz and entrust his coverage to contain pass-catchers for 2.5 seconds or that the rush would get there in time. Macdonald’s philosophy was more about what aggressiveness means. It was about having the defense be the ones in control. I asked him about his philosophy and carryover from Martindale’s scheme during his introductory press conference in Baltimore.
“The aggressiveness – absolutely – is going to carry over, but I think you’ve got to look through the lens [of], ‘What does aggressiveness actually mean?’ It’s about keeping the offense off balance and where they’re not really believing what they’re seeing on a down-to-down basis,” Macdonald said. “So, a lot of times, that will come with the schemed-up pressure – that’ll happen. A lot of times it could be a fake pressure, it could look like this coverage and play like another one. You’re changing the stress points of the zones and things like that and just trying to create doubt at all times. You want to be the one pushing the envelope, rather than the other way around. So, that aggressiveness, that was something that … That’s a principle of the Ravens organization – aggressiveness.”
Macdonald isn’t afraid to use the sword. But he’s well understanding of when to not swing wildly out of desperation.
2.) What do you consider Macdonald’s biggest strengths as a defensive game-planner?
He gets it. I know that’s a generic response but look at the numbers. He knows how to eliminate big plays, slow teams down, make them uncomfortable and limit the opposition’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses, and he did so against some of the best the past two seasons. When teams have juggernauts at wide receiver, or running back, or their quarterback, he sees what they’re successful at and limits those opportunities and forces them to go elsewhere. It’s also good to know he did so against NFC West teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.
3.) The Ravens’ stats look noticeably better after the Roquan Smith trade. What were some of the early struggles (if any) prior to the Smith trade that Macdonald was having in the 2022 season?
It was a combination of young talent not stepping up and the middle of the field not being as containable. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen is a damn good backer, but he is more of a 1b contributor. Smith is a bonafide 1a. Freeing up Queen to do what he does best, delayed blitzing, covering zones and pursuit in the run game. This, combined with safety Kyle Hamilton overcoming early struggles helped to boost the team.
4.) Macdonald wore many hats in Baltimore before becoming defensive coordinator (minus the one year as Michigan’s DC in 2021). From a local perspective, how well did he connect with his players?
Players loved Macdonald. They gave him incredible praise, talked about his genius as a coordinator and it caused many Ravens fans to hope they’d see Baltimore part ways with Head Coach John Harbaugh and promote Macdonald, which is not the way the Ravens conduct their business and is a bit excessive. But, in that imaginary scenario, I think the players would all have loved to play for Macdonald as their head coach.
Here are some of the compliments from players during locker room cleanout:
S Kyle Hamilton: “[Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald] deserves everything that’s coming his way. If that is a head job somewhere, then we’re all super proud of him. I think everybody has their own journey [and] own time in this league, and he’s a hot name in this league right now, and deservedly so. He’s done a great job with us for the past couple years, and he’s earned it, and it hasn’t been given to him. I’m happy for him. If he stays here, that would be dope, too.”
ILB Patrick Queen: ”I think [Mike Macdonald’s] the best [head-coaching] candidate out there right now. I don’t think anybody does it like him. Nobody cares like him. Nobody will do what he does. He will not rest until he has everything right. Whoever gets him, if he leaves, they’re getting the best candidate out there. The guy is all around just the best person I’ve ever been around, coach-wise [and] person-wise. He really cares and truly cares about the players, the people around the organization and the fans.”
OLB Kyle Van Noy: ”If he gets a head-coaching job, he’s going to be really, really good. [He’s a] very solid coach, [who’s] very good at Xs and Os [and] very good at communicating and getting the team galvanized in the right direction for the main goal – and he loves football. I think that [it’s] awesome for him to get looked at as [a] head [coach] at such a young age that he has – I guess – in the league. But hats off to him. He called a great season as a D-coordinator, ...”
5.) How happy should Seahawks fans be with this hire, and do you think there are any impending Ravens free agents who could make their way to Seattle to play for Mike?
The Ravens have 15 unrestricted free agents on their defense this season, including big names Queen, Van Noy, Jadeveon Clowney, Ronald Darby, Rock Ya-Sin and Justin Madubuike. While some won’t be heading to Seattle, I can imagine a couple reuniting with what appeared to be their favorite coordinator turned head coach. I’m not the most knowledgeable of the Seahawks’ defensive roster or their moves for the pending season, but if they need a veteran rusher, Van Noy could be one of them. He came off the couch a few weeks into the season and notched a new personal best in sacks (9.0) and accumulated 48 total pressures. He’s a guy I could see following. Some others are a possibility, like Darby or safety Ar’Darius Washington, but I imagine the Ravens will be vying to retain their depth guys, too. Queen could be a possibility, depending upon the linebacker depth in Seattle and the cap space.
Thanks again to Kyle for answering my questions! Hopefully you’ve taken a lot of valuable information from his responses.