Brian Wacker, The Baltimore Sun
Under Macdonald, Baltimore also had a dominant defense this season, becoming the first team in the modern era of the NFL to lead the league in sacks (60), takeaways (31) and points allowed per game (16.1).
That just scratches the surface, too. The Ravens were also first in passing yards allowed per play, first in rushing touchdowns allowed per game and second in overall yards allowed per play. Over the past two seasons under Macdonald, Baltimore’s defense ranked in the top five in scoring, total yards, rushing yards, red zone touchdown rate and third-down conversion rate.
It wasn’t just the gaudy numbers the Ravens put up, it was how they achieved them.
Baltimore generated 143 quarterback pressures this season. That was just the 16th highest total in the league, but the Ravens also blitzed just 21.9% of the time, the eighth-lowest rate in the NFL. Only four teams — the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Houston Texans — generated more pressures with a lower blitz rate, and three of them made the playoffs, including the 49ers, who are in the Super Bowl.
Macdonald achieved that success by disguising his rushes, sometimes rushing linebackers and dropping defensive linemen into coverage and rushing a cornerback off the edge, among other things, as a way to create chaos and confusion without using more than four rushers.
“I’ve been saying it since I got here, Mike Macdonald is the smartest defensive coordinator I’ve ever had,” Clowney said. “He puts the guys in the right position. … He leaves nothing that we haven’t seen going into a game that we haven’t seen during the week.”
Jeff Zrebiec, The Athletic
Harbaugh promoted inside linebackers coach Zach Orr into the defensive coordinator role, a relatively surprising development, given Orr has just three years of position coach experience. The Ravens, though, view the 31-year-old as a rising star in the coaching profession and understood that there was a good chance they’d lose him to another team if they didn’t promote him.
Orr is close to Macdonald and it was widely expected that he was going to follow him to Seattle and become his defensive coordinator. The Green Bay Packers were also interested in Orr for their defensive coordinator opening. The Ravens, however, did not want to risk losing Orr and they opted to promote him, eschewing a few other coveted internal candidates.
Orr has developed a strong rapport with the Ravens players, including Smith, the outspoken leader of the team’s defense. Orr’s energy and charisma are evident both on the sidelines, where he’s regularly exhorting and celebrating with the players, and on the practice field, where he sprints from drill to drill.
He’s known as an energetic leader and motivator, who can reach and relate to players, and who has put in the time to learn what it takes to be an effective coach.
Jamison Hensley, ESPN
2023 record: 13-4
Final FPI ranking: No. 2
Estimated 2024 cap space: $17.9 million
First-round draft slot: No. 30
Under-the-radar offseason priority: Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast need attention. The Ravens have a major chunk of their offense headed to free agency: their two most proven running backs (J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards), two most experienced wide receivers (Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor) and two starting offensive linemen (guards Kevin Zeitler and John Simpson).
Draft outlook: Rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers was fantastic in 2023, but Beckham hits free agency in March at 31 years old. In a draft class that is stacked at wide receiver, this could be the year to land Jackson another top-flight target. Flowers is a speedy, undersized vertical threat. If the Ravens can land a big-bodied wideout like LSU’s Brian Thomas Jr. or Texas’ Adonai Mitchell, they have to jump on the chance.
Jonathon Macri, PFF
2023 was a true breakout season for Madubuike, who improved his pass-rush grade and doubled his pass-rush production from 2022. Madubuike posted 32 pressures in 2022 and brought that number up to 64 in 2023, which ranked sixth among interior defensive linemen. He also more than doubled his sack production, going from 5.5 in 2022 to 13 this past year, in large part thanks to an NFL-record-tying 11 straight games with at least a half-sack.
Madubuike continued his strong play into the playoffs, posting 13 pressures and a half-sack to go along with a 76.7 pass-rush grade and a 78.7 overall grade across two games. He also cracked the top 15 at his position in PFF WAR for the first time in his career. At just 26 years old, Madubuike is likely to push for a deal similar to what Daron Payne got from the Washington Commanders last offseason (four years, $90 million).
Aaron Schatz, ESPN
50. 2012 Baltimore Ravens (14-6, 15.5%)
The Ravens were just 12th in total DVOA during the regular season and ranked lower than that in both offense and defense. They were lifted by a No. 1 special teams unit which is one of the top dozen special teams units in DVOA history. In the first round, they easily put up a 24-9 win over a Colts team that made the playoffs despite ranking just 24th in DVOA.
Then came the ”Mile High Miracle,” the 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones that tied things up with the Broncos and led to a 38-35 Baltimore victory in double overtime. The Ravens easily dispatched the Patriots in the AFC championship 28-13 and defeated the 49ers 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII. Other than the Colts, the Ravens had a tough road to a title, as the last three teams they played ranked first (Denver), second (New England) and fourth (San Francisco) in DVOA that season.
33. 2000 Baltimore Ravens (16-4, 29.4%)
The Ravens ranked fourth in total DVOA and — this might surprise you — a reasonable 22nd on offense. Yet, once you adjust for the league’s easiest strength of schedule, these Ravens did not have one of the top 25 regular-season defenses in DVOA history. Their run defense was fantastic, but the pass defense finished just sixth that season. Combined, the Ravens were second to the Titans on defense.
Then the Ravens turned it on to a ridiculous extent once we got to the postseason. In four games, the Ravens allowed a combined 23 points to the Broncos, Titans, Raiders and Giants, all teams that were above average on offense that season. As a result, the Ravens’ defensive DVOA goes from minus-21% in the regular season to minus-31% once you include the playoffs. It’s the fifth-best defense in DVOA history with the playoffs included. They defeated the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV by a score of 34-7.