The report that surfaced Sunday morning found its way to the players who make up the Ravens defense. And if it is true that defensive coordinator Dean Pees is planning to retire after Sunday’s 31-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, some players say they hope Pees calls an audible.
“Dean has to make the decision for him and his family,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “If he thinks it’s time to hang it up, then he’s going to do so. We’re going to miss him, but we’d love to have him back so we can finish. Don’t nobody want to finish like this."
Added rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey: “He’s a great defensive coordinator. I hope he can stay with us for another year.”
Several players said they were uncertain the 68-year-old Pees would step away, and the best person who could answer that — Pees himself — left M&T Bank Stadium shortly after the game had ended, according to a team spokesman.
If Sunday night was Pees’ final regular-season game as the team’s defensive coordinator, he might have much to be proud of. The defense finished the regular-season leading the NFL in interceptions with 22 and total takeaways with 33.
The Ravens had allowed the fourth fewest points per game at 18.1 and were in the top 10 in fewest passing yards allowed per game (213.9), total yards allowed per game (322.8), third-down defense (37.2 percent success rate) and red-zone defense (47.6 percent). The unit was poised to finish in the top 10 for the fourth season in a row.
Those numbers might change, however, after Sunday’s loss. Cincinnati gained 146 rushing yards courtesy of a ground game that had been ranked second-to-last in the league. And with the Ravens nursing a 27-24 lead, the defense surrendered a 49-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andy Dalton to wide receiver Tyler Boyd on fourth-and-12 with 44 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
This was cornerback Brandon Carr’s first year with the Ravens, but it did not take him long to understand Pees’ value to the defense.
“His fingerprints are all across this defense,” said Carr, who tied a career high in interceptions with four. “Just the years that he’s been here, you’ve seen the shutouts and big-game defenses that we’ve had from his play-calling. So without him, moving forward, if it happens that way, we’re going to miss him. But at the same time, it’s going to be time for the next person to step up, that next signal caller for the Ravens defense to go out here and call some plays for us.”
If Pees does retire, finding his successor will be a significant priority in the offseason. Coach John Harbaugh has promoted from within on all three occasions during his tenure when he’s had to hire a new defensive coordinator, and linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale is expected to be the top candidate. Martindale was the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator in 2010 and played a crucial role in developing young linebackers C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr and Patrick Onwuasor.
There could be some intriguing options outside of the organization. Chuck Pagano was fired by the Indianapolis Colts after Sunday’s win against the Houston Texans, and Pagano was the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2011, the year before Pees took over. Indianapolis defensive coordinator Ted Monachino was the Ravens linebackers coach from 2012 to 2015.
Although word of Pees’ plan began trickling to the players before Sunday’s game, Carr said there was not much talk among them.
“If anything, [it was,] ‘Let’s go out with a bang.’ That was the main thing,” he said. “But I didn’t put too much weight into it. I’ve been around long enough and lot of stories come out around this time, a lot of distractions. It’s just noise. Just block it out. I don’t think anybody talked about that today.”
But with an unclear offseason awaiting the organization, the defensive players spoke glowingly of how meaningful Pees has been to them.
“All I can say is I appreciate him,” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “He’s the best defensive coordinator I’ve ever been around. From his resume alone, he’s a top defensive coordinator. If he’s not here, hopefully God is with him, and he has a great life and is prosperous in what he does. Hopefully though, he’s back. He’s a guru.”
Said Mosley: “I love him. He’s had a long career, way before I was born. I love him as a man. Obviously, it’s something out of our control, but he’s got my full support no matter what he does.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Zrebiec and Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.