Change was inevitable with the Ravens defense. It just wasn’t expected to start with Don Martindale - Jeff Zrebiec
In a rare move, Harbaugh questioned Martindale’s play calling after the loss in Pittsburgh on Dec. 5. That was the first of the Ravens’ six consecutive defeats to end the season. According to sources in the organization, Harbaugh and Martindale, veteran coaches with strong personalities, butted heads at times, creating occasional tension but nothing the two men didn’t work through. Sources also said that Martindale’s colorful and direct comments in news conferences rankled some high-ranking team officials.
Still, according to several Ravens staff members, there were no obvious indications that Harbaugh was preparing to make a major shakeup. A few position coaches who seem likely to get promotions elsewhere were expected to go. Martindale and offensive coordinator Greg Roman took part in the season-ending personnel meetings last week, and discussions about the offseason and the 2022 season were already underway.
Questions remain. If Harbaugh felt a change was necessary, why did he wait until 12 days after the season, when neither man was at the facility, to make this call? That he did it while in the Bahamas with Bisciotti, general manager Eric DeCosta and other members of the organization’s hierarchy triggered reasonable questions about the role of Bisciotti and DeCosta in the decision.
Baltimore ranked No. 25 on defense last season, the first time the Ravens had finished out of the top 10 in Martindale’s four seasons as defensive coordinator. The Ravens also allowed the second-most yards (363.4) in the franchise’s 26-year history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Martindale, 58, had been with the Ravens since their 2012 Super Bowl season and was known for his ultra-aggressive style. The Ravens regularly ranked among the highest-blitzing teams.
The Ravens gave up the most completions of 20 or more yards in the NFL (74) and 40 yards or more (16). Baltimore also managed just 34 sacks this season, which ranked 22nd in the league.
The firing of Martindale comes at a time when Baltimore is facing a potential defensive rebuild. Aside from the pass rush, the Ravens have a number of areas to address on defense this offseason with the team perhaps looking to add four new starters on that side of the ball.
Not only will the defense have a new coordinator, but more than half of the starters heading into the 2022 season could be “new” faces from the start of 2021.
Baltimore has one of the oldest starting defensive lines in football with Calais Campbell (35), Brandon Williams (32) and Derek Wolfe (31). Campbell is contemplating retirement. Williams is a free agent. Wolfe’s status is unknown after missing the entire season due to a back injury.
The secondary could see the most change, as Elliott and Anthony Averett are pending free agents, veteran Jimmy Smith could retire, and the Ravens have to decide whether to stick with Peters and Tavon Young or take substantial salary-cap savings.
Middle linebacker Josh Bynes, who was brought back midseason, is a pending free agent. Baltimore needs to restock its outside linebacker corps again as Justin Houston was on a one-year deal, Pernell McPhee could retire, and Tyus Bowser will be coming off a major injury suffered in the final game.
While Ravens fans are clamoring for a first-round offensive tackle in the Draft, Baltimore could throw a dart at the defensive depth chart and hit a spot worthy of a first-round pick.
But one thing is for sure. The Ravens aren’t keeping the status quo after a year that didn’t measure up to the franchise’s high defensive standards, and now they have a chance to build the next iteration of Baltimore’s bullies.
The pressure is now on Harbaugh to identify a strong replacement with Martindale unlikely to have much difficulty landing elsewhere. Wanting a defensive coordinator with a higher floor — bending without as much breaking, if you will — than what we witnessed in 2021 makes sense, but someone matching Martindale’s ceiling could prove difficult, especially with so much anticipated roster turnover on defense and not nearly as many cap dollars to devote to it as recent years.
Citing the late Bo Schembechler over his 14-year tenure in Baltimore, Harbaugh often likes to say, “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. You never stay the same.”
Time will reveal which category this move fits, but it’s difficult not to interpret it as a half-empty decision when recognizing Martindale’s full body of work and the factors that worked against him in 2021.
Ravens Could Add Playmaking Defensive Back with 14th Overall Pick - Todd Karpovich
The Ravens are poised to select Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. with the 14th overall pick, according to FanNation’s Zack Patraw.
“Great overall athlete with springy explosiveness,” Patraw wrote. “Booth is shot out of a cannon, allowing him to break and make up lost ground quickly. Trusting his deep speed, he does not have to get hands on receivers as he can run with them stride for stride.”
Booth, 6-feet, 200 pounds, finished his career for the Tigers with 68 tackles, nine passes defensed, one sack, and five interceptions.
Booth, who just finished his junior season. is a physical corner that excels in man coverage. Seldom tested after a few games, opposing quarterbacks often just looked the other way when facing Clemson.
Booth will be coveted because he is a complete corner that works in zone principles, man coverage, and helps in run support.