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Ravens Roundtable: Coach of the First Quarter

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

At 3-1 and in control of the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens are off to a strong start to their 2023 campaign. Baltimore Beatdown staff identifies the coach of the first quarter:

Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald

Preseason concerns about potential defensive regression were warranted. Offseason attrition robbed the Ravens of roughly 40-percent of their pass rush production, when Calais Campbell, Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul departed, plus three former starting defensive backs. Then came training camp injuries to all three projected starting cornerbacks, Marlon Humphrey, Rock Ya-Sin and Pepe Williams, followed by in-season injuries to star safety Marcus Williams and ascending edge rushers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo. Nevertheless, Macdonald has coordinated a defense that ranks among the three best in the league in yards allowed per game, points allowed per game and EPA per play. He consistently puts his top players, Roquan Smith and Kyle Hamilton, in position to make impactful plays while simultaneously enabling lesser pedigreed players like Brandon Stephens and Geno Stone to excel. Through his use of well-designed deceptive pressures and innovative disguised coverages, Macdonald’s defense has exceeded the sum of their parts. At this rate, and with injured difference makers expected to return, the 2023 defense could rival Marvin Lewis’ 2000 unit and Rex Ryan’s 2006 outfit for best defense in team history.

-Vasilis Lericos

Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald

The person responsible for making what has been a makeshift unit at times into one of the most fearsome and dominant in the entire league deserves a tremendous amount of praise. Macdonald has been the orchestrator of a defense that just outplayed the previously top-ranked unit on their home turf in Week 4. The fact that the Ravens are ranked first in fewest yards per play (3.8), second in sacks (15), third in passing yards allowed per game (148) and total points allowed (58), and seventh in rushing yards per game (92.5) despite not having several key starters through the first month is nothing short of remarkable. He has been able to plug and play veterans that joined the team late in the training camp or right off the street to still field a highly successful and cohesively dominant unit. Sadly, this might very well be his last year on the sidelines in Baltimore because he will likely be one of top head coaching candidates next offseason if he keeps this up.

-Joshua Reed

Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald

The second-year defensive coordinator was a no-brainer for me for this award. Despite a long list of injuries to key players that includes cornerback Marlon Humphrey, safety Marcus Williams, and outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo, Macdonald’s unit has not missed a beat and has continued their play from last season as one of the NFL’s top defenses. The Ravens defense under Macdonald has been sound in every facet, limiting big plays through the air, stuffing the run, and getting home to the quarterback with various pressure packages. Macdonald has quickly made a name for himself as one of the brightest young coaches in the game and there is a real chance he finds a head coaching gig somewhere sooner rather than later.

-Dustin Cox

Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald

What can’t you say about this guy? He lost his top corner, a top-5 safety and started the year without one of his starting edge players. In the meantime, the starting nickel went down, multiple other defensive backs have been rotated in and out, and two more edge players have gone down. Despite all that, this unit is third in points allowed per game (14.5), third in overall defense (260.8 yards per game), seventh in run defense (92.5 yards per game), and third in passing defense (168.5 yards per game). They are third in red zone defense with opponents only converting 30% of the time, and first in both yards per play (3.75) and yards per pass play (4.08). Macdonald’s scheme has revitalized a devalued position with their top inside linebacker duo and used them to hide the cornerback room. He’s put guys like Brandon Stephens, Geno Stone, and Daryl Worley in position to succeed and taken advantage of players like Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Hamilton to wreck havoc on quarterbacks. Considering the reinforcements coming in with Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Williams, Odafe Oweh, Tyus Bowser all hopefully playing soon, this defense will only get better as they play tougher competition.

-Zach Canter

Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken

While picking Mike Macdonald was tempting, I have to go with Monken here, purely over the incredible red zone success the team has seen this year. Last season, converting touchdowns in the red zone was a massive problem area for the Ravens as they ranked 30th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage. This year? Number one in the league through four weeks, converting a whopping 80% of their red-zone trips into touchdowns. It seems like Monken is relying heavily on Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability to torch teams inside the twenty. Through four weeks, Jackson has already surpassed his total rushing touchdowns in 2022. Has the offense sputtered at times? Yes. However, when you are putting seven on the board four out of every five times you cross the opponents twenty yard line, you can afford a few slip-ups. While Macdonald and the defense deserve major props for their performance, they have yet to be truly tested by a top offense where as the Ravens offense just put on a clinic vs. the league’s number one defense entering the contest.

-Stephen Bopst

Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald

The Ravens’ defense has had the benefit of facing a bit of a hodge-podge group of opposing quarterbacks to begin the season. However, despite a revolving door of parts at edge rusher and in the secondary, they’ve been one of the league’s top defenses. That can largely be attributed to Macdonald, who’s pushing all the right buttons to get the most out of the talent at his disposal. The Ravens have been without top playmakers like Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Williams, Odafe Oweh, Tyus Bowser, and David Ojabo for multiple games — some the entire year so far. In spite of this, Macdonald has the group humming

— Frank Platko