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Late for Work 1/24: Looking at Potential Candidates for Defensive Coordinator


Looking at Potential Candidates for Defensive Coordinator

The search is on for a new defensive coordinator after the Ravens parted ways with Wink Martindale Friday.

The first candidate outside the organization linked to the Ravens is Dallas Cowboys Secondary Coach/Passing Game Coordinator Joe Whitt. The Ravens reportedly requested permission to interview him. The Seattle Seahawks also are looking to interview Whitt for their vacant defensive coordinator position.

The Cowboys led the league with 34 takeaways and 26 interceptions this season, which is likely one reason Whitt, 43, is an attractive candidate for the Ravens.

"[Head Coach John] Harbaugh wants the turnover element to return to the Ravens defense after a season in which Baltimore struggled mightily to create them," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.

Zrebiec noted that the Cowboys may want to hold onto Whitt and promote him to Defensive Coordinator to replace Dan Quinn if he leaves for a head coaching job. There's also the possibility Whitt could follow Quinn elsewhere.

"Either way, there's significant competition for his services," Zrebiec wrote. "Whitt has plenty of experience, but he's never been a defensive coordinator. That, coupled with him not having much familiarity with the Ravens, might make for a bigger learning curve than Harbaugh wants."

Harbaugh has always hired from within when choosing his next coordinator. Here's a look at three internal candidates, followed by some other potential candidates from outside the organization, with comments from Zrebiec and The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker.

Chris Hewitt, defensive pass game coordinator and secondary coach

Hewitt, 47, has spent 10 seasons with the Ravens and was promoted from defensive backs coach to pass game coordinator in 2020.

Zrebiec: "Chris Hewitt has paid his dues with the Ravens and been viewed as the heir apparent to Martindale if the latter got a head coaching job. He's well-respected by the players and he brings a fiery demeanor and attention to detail. He also has a longstanding and strong relationship with Harbaugh, who coached Hewitt as a collegian at Cincinnati."

Walker: "The Ravens ranked last in pass defense in 2021, which could work against Hewitt despite his unit's excellent track record in previous seasons. The secondary was decimated by injuries to starting cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters and starting safety DeShon Elliott but struggled to prevent explosive plays throughout the season."

Anthony Weaver, run game coordinator and defensive line coach

Weaver, 41, a defensive end for the Ravens from 2002-2005, was the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans in 2020.

Zrebiec: "Weaver is young, smart and personable and he knows how to relate to players. He's viewed in some circles as a future NFL head coach and it appears only a matter of time before he gets another opportunity to run a defense again."

Walker: "The Texans struggled in his lone season as coordinator, ranking 30th in total defense and 27th in scoring defense. But Weaver built an excellent reputation coaching Houston's defensive line from 2016 through 2020. Superstar defensive end J.J. Watt described him as an 'incredible coach' and 'great man.'"

Drew Wilkins, outside linebackers coach

Wilkins, 34, has spent 12 seasons with the Ravens, starting as a video operations intern in 2010 before working his way up the coaching ladder. He was recently selected as a defensive coordinator for the East-West Shrine Bowl for the second time.

Zrebiec: "Wilkins is an ascending coach, praised for his intelligence, work ethic and communication skills. He's worked with some of the Ravens' top pass rushers, including Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Matthew Judon, and he was credited for accelerating first-round outside linebacker Odafe Oweh's transition to the NFL. … It might be a bit early for Wilkins to make the jump to an NFL coordinator role. Harbaugh will likely prioritize play-calling experience."

Joe Cullen, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator

Cullen, 54, has been a defensive coach for three decades, including a five-year run (2016-2020) as the Ravens defensive line coach.

Zrebiec: "Cullen was in a near impossible situation this year, but the jury is obviously still out about his ability as a defensive coordinator after the Jaguars finished 20th in overall defense, 28th in points allowed and 32nd in turnovers created. Cullen wasn't necessarily considered the defensive coordinator in-waiting when he was in Baltimore, so does one year away change that?"

Walker: "Despite a tough season in Jacksonville, leading defensive players said they hoped their plain-spoken coordinator would stick around. Cullen also earned the respect of his players in Baltimore. … His experience nurturing interior linemen could be appealing for a team that needs to rebuild its front."

Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach

Leonhard, 39, a former NFL safety, played 10 seasons in the league, including one (2008) with the Ravens.

Zrebiec: "Leonhard has called working for his alma mater his dream job and it's not a lock that he'd even be interested in the Baltimore opening. This would be a bit of a risky hire for Harbaugh because Leonhard doesn't have any NFL coaching experience."

Walker: "The former Ravens safety might be a wild-card candidate compared to some others, but he has built an excellent track record in five seasons as defensive coordinator for his alma mater, Wisconsin."

Mike Macdonald, Michigan defensive coordinator

Macdonald, 34, joined the Ravens as an intern in 2014 and spent six seasons as a defensive assistant, before working specifically with defensive backs and then inside linebackers.

Zrebiec: "Macdonald is touted as a rising star in the coaching business after the one-year impact he made on the Wolverines defense. He's an extremely bright and organized coach who already has a familiarity with many of the Ravens' top defensive players and the defensive staff. Harbaugh interviewed Macdonald for the vacant defensive coordinator position back in 2018, so he obviously believes in his potential."

Walker: "Macdonald's future could hinge in part on [Michigan Head Coach] Jim Harbaugh's plans, with rumors swirling that the younger Harbaugh might be eyeing a return to the NFL."

Mike Zimmer

Zimmer, 65, was fired as the Minnesota Vikings head coach two weeks ago. He was 72-56-1 in eight seasons with Minnesota.

Zrebiec: "If Harbaugh is looking for an accomplished and experienced defensive play caller, he couldn't do much better than Zimmer. He's a no-nonsense coach who holds players accountable and would bring a proven system to Baltimore."

Ravens' Overtime Proposal Revisited After Ending to Chiefs-Bills Game

The ending to last night's instant classic between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills has reignited the debate about the NFL's overtime rules and brought the Ravens' "spot and choose" overtime proposal back into the discussion.

The Bills and red-hot quarterback Josh Allen never got a chance to touch the ball in overtime after the Chiefs won the toss and went right down the field to win, 42-36, and advance to the AFC Championship Game.

Under the rule change proposed by the Ravens last March, teams playing in overtime would not only have the option of deciding whether to start on offense or defense but where to spot the ball on the opening drive. The proposal was voted down by NFL owners.

"For example, if the Ravens are playing in overtime, win the coin toss and elect to spot the ball at, say, their own 20-yard line, the opposing team would choose whether to start on offense or defense from that spot on the field," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "If the Ravens win the coin toss and elect to choose who gets the ball first, the opposing team would first spot the ball — and the end zone to be defended — and then the Ravens would decide whether to start on offense or defense, hence the 'spot and choose' characterization."

ESPN analytics writer Seth Walder is a fan of the rule change.

"In my view, it's a clear improvement to the game and think it should be adopted immediately," Walder wrote. "It helps from a fairness standpoint and from an entertainment standpoint — that's as good as it gets. I'd be legitimately excited to see where teams think the right break-even yard line is, and how they would adjust if, say, Patrick Mahomes were standing on the opposite sideline."

What Do Analytics Say About Justin Tucker's Value?

An analytics dive into the "true value" of NFL kickers proved what the majority of pundits and fans already know: Justin Tucker is the gold standard.

Pro Football Focus computed the average expectation for the field goals of each kicker to get an expected field goal rate for every individual.

The data showed that Tucker was the best kicker this season, as well as the leader in true field-goal expectation over percentage during 2013-2021.

In analyzing how kickers have performed in clutch situations since 2013, Tucker again was the best.

"The only kicker who overperformed in clutch situations with a significance level above 95% is Tucker, whose posteriori probability is 1.8%," PFF’s Timo Riske wrote. "This is insane if we consider that he also has, by far, the highest expectation to begin with.

"Using the actual impact of field goals toward winning games, we estimated the value of kickers and deduced that typical kickers are worth up to one-tenth of a win, while Justin Tucker is projected to be worth up to 0.3 wins each year … Finally, we've given our readers the opportunity to win the next football discussion in a local bar: Yes, Justin Tucker is absolutely worth a first-round pick."

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