When Jim Harbaugh was looking to turn around his Michigan defense, he sought the counsel of one of his most trusted confidants – his brother.
John Harbaugh had just the guy – a smart, passionate, young coach by the name of Mike Macdonald. He hadn't been a coordinator or play-caller yet, but John knew Macdonald had a bright future.
Jim took John's recommendation, bringing Macdonald to Ann Arbor and giving him the reins of a defense that was ranked among the worst in college football. In just one year, Michigan turned into one of the best. John expected Macdonald to be good – but that good!?
Can you imagine the conversation when John called Jim after the Ravens' 2021 season ended with Baltimore ranked 25th in the league in defense? "Sooooo, I'm gonna need him back now."
Macdonald has been cast for the Harbaugh sequel. Do the same thing you did at Michigan back "home" in Baltimore. The job description is fairly similar:
Diversify a blitz-heavy attack
At Michigan, Macdonald took over for Don Brown, a man nicknamed "Dr. Blitz" for his pressure-heavy ways. Macdonald showed a more diversified attack that left teams guessing more often.
Back in Baltimore, Macdonald replaces Wink Martindale, one of the league's most aggressive blitzers who believes if you're not getting pressure, bring more. Martindale's heavy blitzes got beat too many times and didn't come with enough payoff of sacks and turnovers.
Macdonald got praise from Michigan reporters for mixing up his attack, keeping opponents on their toes.
Slow down high-powered offensive rivals/QBs
At Michigan, Macdonald was tasked with slowing down Ohio State, who had scored 118 points and rolled up more than 1,100 yards in its previous two meetings. This past year, Michigan beat Ohio State for the first time since 2011 and gave up just 27 points in the process.
In Baltimore, Macdonald will look for ways to slow down some of the AFC's top young quarterbacks and their dynamic offenses. Cincinnati posted 82 points in two blowouts this season, and Joe Burrow threw for 941 yards and seven touchdowns.
In four games against the Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has averaged 370 yards and three touchdowns. Mahomes beats just about everyone, but that's still about 70 yards and a half-touchdown over his career average.
Even the Browns' Baker Mayfield, who has averaged 235 passing yards per game over his career, has put up 278 per game against Baltimore. And no matter how many times the Ravens kept Ben Roethlisberger down for most of the game, he too often figured out a way to win in the end.
The Ravens know that if they're going to get to the Super Bowl, they have to do a better job against their top threats, who won't be going away anytime soon.
Develop young talent
At Michigan, the program was recruiting blue-chip prospects but not getting blue-chip results. Now they will have two of the top picks in this year's draft with EDGEs Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Hutchinson recently credited Macdonald with his breakout season.
In Baltimore, the Ravens have linebackers Odafe Oweh and Patrick Queen just scratching the surface, as well as other young talent. Plus, the Ravens' defense could receive a major infusion of youth this offseason with many veterans' status uncertain. Macdonald's player development talents will be given a workout.
The Ravens defense was No. 1 in overall defense from 2018-2020, the three years when Macdonald was the linebackers coach. Of course, there were a lot of reasons for that success.
But after a tough season on defense, even when considering all the injuries the unit sustained, it was time for a change. Jim Harbaugh knew it last offseason for his program. John Harbaugh knew it this offseason. And they both saw the same guy as the answer.