This is an emotional and unusual week for Head Coach John Harbaugh and Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees, coaching against each other after working together for years.
Pees was on Harbaugh’s staff for eight seasons, the last six as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator before he briefly retired in January. Less than a month later, Pees changed his mind for an opportunity to work with Titans’ head coach Mike Vrabel, another close friend. Vrabel played with the New England Patriots when Pees coached there, and Pees’ son, Matt, was also hired to be part of Vrabel’s staff.
The unusual circumstance of coaching against his former defensive coordinator adds a different feel to the week for Harbaugh, as the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s game in Tennessee.
“Well it’s more unusual than the average game,” Harbaugh said. “I’m excited about it. Dean means a lot to me personally, and he did a good job here. … It will be special before the game. Once the game starts, we’ll be trying to choke each other out.”
Both the Ravens and Titans are among the NFL’s top defensive teams, with the Ravens ranked fourth overall and the Titans ranked seventh. Under first-year Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale, the Ravens are the only NFL team that has not allowed a second half touchdown.
Pees had a lot of success in Baltimore too. The Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII in Pees’ first season as defensive coordinator, and Baltimore’s defense was ranked among the league’s top 10 during three of his six seasons coordinating the defense.
However, Pees’ tenure in Baltimore did not end the way he had planned, as late-game defensive breakdowns during pivotal games in 2016 and 2017 cost the Ravens a chance to make the playoffs. His final game in Baltimore ended with Cincinnati’s 4th-and-12 touchdown, and Pees announced his retirement the day after.
Harbaugh said Pees should be appreciated for his overall body of work with the Ravens.
“He put a lot of good defenses together here in Baltimore,” Harbaugh said. “I hope the fans understand that and believe that. There are a lot of heartbreaking moments for every team around the league. I have a lot of respect for Dean. They’re playing very well, and they’re one of the top defenses in football right now, which is pretty much a trademark for Dean’s defenses.”
The Titans have been particularly stingy defending the pass, ranked fourth in the NFL yielding just 210 passing yards per game. A game within the game will be Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco working against Pees’ defense, a carryover from when they used to see each other every week during Ravens practice.