For two seasons, Mike Macdonald has transformed the Baltimore Ravens into the most deceptive defense in football.

Now, the team’s best hope to keep him is that the offseason picture is not exactly what it looks like.

What it looks like: Macdonald, at 36, is one of the hottest up-and-coming coordinators in the NFL. That would put him on the short list to take one of the two open head coaching vacancies this offseason. Looking at how teams have performed so far, there could be four or five more by season’s end.

If Macdonald is looking to showcase his resume, the most straightforward way would be to flip on the tape from the Ravens’ 33-19 win over San Francisco — a triumph few saw coming. The way his unit collapsed the pocket, batted passes and got their mitts around seemingly every single pass that was deflected into the air was an altogether suffocating performance.

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The greatest plan in the world is useless without Kyle Hamilton’s instincts for breaking on a ball or Jadeveon Clowney bowling over his blocker. There’s no success without Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen racking up bone-rattling hits that left no doubt who the more physical team was.

Kyle Hamilton, #14 of the Baltimore Ravens, intercepts a pass intended for Deebo Samuel, #19 of the San Francisco 49ers, during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

But Macdonald has been the maestro, harmonizing these distinct melodies, finding what each Raven does best and drawing on these talents at just the right moments.

“We have the utmost respect and the utmost trust in every single person on this defense,” Smith said. “The way Mike called the game is second to none in this league.”

The reason Macdonald’s calls feel revolutionary is the way he’s leaned into simulated pressures, making it look like they’re blitzing when they’re not, or disguising where exactly the pass rush is coming from. The Ravens only blitz 21.5% of the time, which puts them below league average. But even so, they have one of the best pass rush win rates (46%) in football, and no one is better at making the most of their opportunities with a league-high 54 sacks.

The key is the fearlessness with which Macdonald rotates his rushers. Hamilton is particularly suited to shoot through blocks, and Queen is a better pass rusher than most linebackers. But to keep the balance intact, Macdonald isn’t afraid to switch out 355-pound Michael Pierce or 338-pound Travis Jones into coverage — quite a risk, but beyond disorienting for quarterbacks.

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That’s why Brock Purdy saw his MVP aspirations crumble in his four-pick performance. On his second interception, he either missed or underestimated cornerback Brandon Stephens coming in for a rush from the edge. On his third, he was scrambling from pressure from an overloaded left side with Hamilton blitzing (Hamilton later secured the tipped ball). On his fourth, the Ravens gave a more conventional look, but still crushed the pocket and forced a mistake. The totality of his error-riddled game clearly gashed Purdy’s self-confidence.

“For me, it’s like I have to ask myself, all right, who are you?” he said afterward. “What do you stand for? Who are you when things are good? Who are you when things don’t go your way? It’s easy to be riding the high and thinking you’re the man when things are going well, winning games and all that kind of stuff, and you don’t really see a whole lot of adversity in some games.”

If Purdy thought he had seen it all in his second year, on Monday he had another thing coming with the Macdonald-led Ravens defense.

Patrick Queen, #6 of the Baltimore Ravens, hits George Kittle, #85 of the San Francisco 49ers, after Queen’s interception during the third quarter at Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 25, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

“It was our rush and coverage working together, in disguise,” Clowney said. “Mike Macdonald put us in good situations to go out there and make plays, and we executed today. We went out there and did our job.”

And Macdonald has done his, you could argue, better than any defensive coordinator in the league.

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He has been everything that the Ravens and Harbaugh could have hoped since he was hired in 2022 and became the youngest defensive coordinator in the NFL, and maybe more. The defense has become an amorphous, fast-flowing, single-minded entity that tells its opponents little about what its intentions are. They only know once they’re knocked down on the field, trying to catch their breath, still processing what happened.

NFL owners and GMs have to be paying attention. Why wouldn’t you want those qualities if you’re the Chargers or the Panthers, or any of the other teams with a coach who is running out of rope? Hopefully Steve Bisciotti and Eric DeCosta are making plays to keep Macdonald around for another year, but honestly, it might not matter all that much. There are only 32 NFL head coaching jobs, and each one of them (no matter how adverse the circumstances) are a dream come true. How can a raise compete with that?

It behooves the Ravens to finish the job, to use this group of talent and football minds to finally get back on the Super Bowl stage and come home with some hardware. Between contract years and coaches entering the hiring cycle, there are typically some staffing changes after a season like the 12-3 Ravens have had. It’s on Baltimore to win big before it gets picked clean.

For now, Macdonald is a Raven, the NFL franchise that he knows best. He still thinks in Baltimore terms, which might be the best edge the franchise has to keep him from the vultures.

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“You’re trying to put pressure on the offense,” he said last Thursday. “That’s something that’s seminal to hear. That’s a Raven principle on how we want to operate.”

Here’s hoping he’s operating for the Ravens for a while longer — at least through Feb. 11, Super Bowl Sunday.

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum. 

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