Cool Clips: The Ravens 'Tag' Sim vs. the Lions
Baltimore has a deep bag of simulated pressures at their disposal and is not afraid to drop interior defensive linemen. Against Detroit, DC Mike Macdonald created a sack from a nicely designed Sim.
Mike Macdonald was hired to do one thing: fix the Ravens’ defense. For a generation, the defense in Baltimore has been a standard in the NFL. After the 2021 season that saw the defense again at the bottom of DVOA (think efficiency), Head Coach John Harbaugh had to make a tough decision: move on from Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale (now with the Giants).
Martindale had been a defensive assistant with the team since 2012 and the DC since 2018. But the last two years of his tenure saw the Ravens’ defense struggle. Martindale had a boom-or-bust style that was blitz-heavy and man-coverage-reliant. Harbough wanted to shift away from that defensive style and moved to get Macdonald back from Michigan.
As the Wolverines DC, Macdonald stabilized their defense, taking them from 118th in DFEI (think DVOA) in a shortened Covid season to 14th in DFEI, a Big 10 Championship, and a birth into the College Football Playoff (BCF Toys). Macdonald was tasked with improving a blitz and man-dominant scheme in Baltimore and Ann Arbor. What Macdonald would be charged to do in Baltimore was already on his resume.
Macdonald had been a member of the Ravens organization since 2014 and was well versed in the culture at Baltimore. After working with his brother in Michigan, Harbough chose to go with Macdonald. With Macdonald at the helm, the Ravens went from one of the top blitzing teams in the NFL to right in the middle of blitz usage. Over seven weeks, Baltimore sits 15th in Blitz Rate (BR) at 29.4%. Where the Ravens are different is in their simulated pressure rates, which sit 4th at 32.1% (PFF).
Baltimore has always been unique in the fact it uses a multitude of simulated pressures. The system ‘old’ Baltimore system is still there, yet Macdonald has tweaked it to fit the ‘new’ style of play needed to excel on defense in the modern game. What Macdonald brought with him from Michigan was not necessarily a change in coverages or a brand new system but an overhauled and updated system.
Macdonald brings a more ‘modern’ approach to the Baltimore defense. Less blitzing and more coverage diversity. Looking at the chart above, Macdonald has shifted to a more ‘even’ spread of coverage usage in ’23. In his first year as the DC, he leaned into Cover 3 and was single-high dominant (MOFC), which reflected a similar usage to Martindale. This year, he has morphed into more evenly spread usage, running Cover 3, Quarters, and Cover 1 at similar rates.
One of the main ways Macdonald has modified the defense is by using Non-Traditional Tampas, or NTTs (2-Roll illustrated above). Defenses that run ‘match’ single-high coverages at volume (the Ravens are ~45% MOFC) need a way to disguise their coverages. Showing a closed post and then moving to split-field coverages changes the picture for the QB post-snap when the rush is coming but also counters play choices that aim to take advantage of single-high structures.
Baltimore currently is 11th in MOF Disguise at 27.8%. Macdonald’s numbers from last year are identical (27.7%). According to PFF, Martindale’s last year (‘21) only saw the Ravens disguise the post 16.3% of the time, and the Giants are currently 30th in Disguise percentage (14.9%). The move from Martindale to Macdonald was a ‘soft’ philosophical change but has paid dividends for Baltimore, which currently sits #2 in DVOA (FTN).
Yes, the Ravens have an arguably better defensive roster than the Giants, and with QB Lamar Jackson, they are always a threat to win their division. Still, the shift from Martindale to Macdonald has made this defensive unit more complete. Currently, the Giants sit 23rd in DVOA, and New York finished 30th in ’22. In the post-Spread era, Harbough felt a need to go more ‘collegiate’ in approach, and the more ‘passive’ approach to defense has the Ravens building another playoff year.
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