Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees picked the right time to retire.
The Ravens need a new voice. Not necessarily a younger one, but a fresh approach to a defense that has failed to close out teams in big games at the end of the season, causing the Ravens to miss the playoffs.
It happened in Pittsburgh last year and again Sunday night here versus the Cincinnati Bengals. There is no need to point fingers at Pees, 68, or the players. It’s just the appropriate time because he had gotten the Ravens as far as he could.
He was in a similar situation a year ago and had told a lot of people in The Castle he was going to retire. But disappointing losses in Pittsburgh and then Cincinnati at the end of the 2016 season forced him to stay.
In 2017, it was a different season but the same result. In fact, this was worse because the Ravens allowed a 90-yard scoring drive in the final 2 minutes and 43 seconds, which included a 49-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining.
It’s difficult to rebound from that situation once, but twice? Nah, time to move on.
Pees’ departure leaves the Ravens in an awkward situation. He had been contemplating retirement as far back as 2013 and the Ravens thought linebackers coach Don Martindale would be his replacement. Those plans were put on hold when Pees came back for this season.
That decision probably earned Martindale a hefty pay increase and an assurance that he was the heir apparent. But the situation changed on Black Monday, when several NFL head coaches were fired with a specialization in coaching defense.
The Ravens can’t ignore the possibility of hiring a John Fox, Jack Del Rio, Chuck Pagano or Dom Capers over an unproven Martindale. Team owner Steve Bisciotti couldn’t have been happy with the defensive meltdown Sunday night.
His luxury suite probably emptied out after the game faster than M&T Bank Stadium. So if given the choice, he probably has “strongly recommended” to coach John Harbaugh that he hire one of the former fired head coaches, preferably Pagano whom Bisciotti thought highly of when he was the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2011.
But it still might end up being Martindale. If Harbaugh was on the hot seat this past season for not making the playoffs in four of the last five years, it is going to be sizzling next season. If you are Pagano, Del Rio or Capers, do you want to risk moving here just for possibly one season?
Maybe you would if you were promised the head coaching job if Harbaugh were fired. Hmmm ...
The players like Martindale. He is innovative, connects with his players and truly cares about them. He comes to work every day to compete and is detail-oriented.
“Yeah, he always talked about wanting to be a coordinator, and he was one at the Broncos,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said in his endorsement of Martindale. “I’m a little biased, because I’ve been with him my whole career and I know what kind of a person he is and what kind of a coach he is. But you never know how things will work out. There’s always a business [side], [but] as long as he’s here with us, I’ll be happy.”
Change, though, is definitely needed. Pees was a good coach but more importantly an honorable man. It’s hard to evaluate his X’s and O’s skills during his six years as the Ravens coordinator because he wasn’t given much. He worked mostly with cornerbacks who were league nomads.
His two top pass rushers were outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, both in the twilight of their careers. But he still was creative as far as blitzes and manufacturing pressures, and this year he finally got a group in the secondary that was as smart as they were athletic.
“When he told us that today, it definitely woke me up. I was very surprised to hear that,” rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey said of Pees’ retirement. “I think I said yesterday that I just remember, the last time he was up in front of the team, he told us about finishing, and that’s one of the things he prided us in, and for us not finishing for him in this last year, it hurts a little bit.”
That was part of the problem; the Ravens couldn’t finish. They signed free agents Brandon Carr, a cornerback, and safety Tony Jefferson during the offseason. They drafted Humphrey in the first round and tried to bolster their pass rushing by selecting outside linebackers Tyus Bowser, of Houston, in the second round and Alabama’s Tim Williams in the third.
To be honest, Williams and Bowser weren’t expected to contribute much this season and only a fool would think they would have significant impact in their rookie seasons. But maybe most disturbing was the way teams repeatedly attacked the Ravens over the middle during the last couple of years, especially in crunch time. Tight ends looked like John Mackey and Kellen Winslow against the Ravens throughout this season.
Somehow, there was a disconnect between Pees and his defense, especially when playing zone. They couldn’t correct these problems and two late-season collapses were unforgivable. And then when Harbaugh OK’d the plan to switch from man to man to zone defense on the last play against the Bengals, it made it worse.
It matters very little now. There was no upside for Pees to stay. He finished off a strong career that lasted more than four decades and the Ravens showed gradual improvement during his time as coordinator.
Now they need a new voice to take them to the next level.