The top 5 defensive coordinators in Baltimore Ravens history

The Ravens have usually had very strong defenses.
Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers / George Gojkovich/GettyImages

The Baltimore Ravens have rarely been considered an offense-first team, especially before Lamar Jackson came to town. The entire Ravens brand and ethos was built on strong defensive play from a team that was not willing to be pushed around on any level.

Even as names come and go, all three head coaches in Ravens franchise history have shown the ability to hire excellent leaders and schemers. Baltimore's ranks have frequently been plundered by the rest of the league, as they want to steal some of the Ravens' magic for themselves.

These five coaches are without a doubt the best defensive coordinators in the already storied history of the Ravens franchise. Consider that Mike Macdonald, who helped the Ravens become the No. 1 defense in the league before being named head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, didn't even crack the top five.

Criteria for selection

These coordinators were chosen based on a combination of:

  • Defensive performance
  • Impact on Winning
  • Did the Ravens get worse when they left?

The top 5 defensive coordinators in Baltimore Ravens history

5. Mike Nolan (2002-2004)

Coaching was in Nolan's blood, as he is the son of longtime NFL head coach Dick Nolan. A prominent defensive coordinator through the 1990s with the Giants, Jets, and then-Redskins, Nolan's best stint may have come with Baltimore.

Nolan finished sixth in the league in fewest points allowed in consecutive years while never ranking worse than 10th in passing or rushing defense during that span. Having Ray Lewis and Ed Reed at the peak of their powers helped immensely, but Nolan was able to put his own spin on things.

While his stint as 49ers head coach ended with a brutal 18-37 record (and his Cowboys tenure under Mike McCarthy was rough), Nolan sure knew how to craft a defense in his prime.

4. Wink Martindale (2018-2022)

Martindale is among a very select group of successful NFL coaches who share their names with that of a famous game show host. Martindale was as no-frills as they come, playing a throwback style of football built on speed, aggression, and a frankly crazy amount of heavy blitzes.

The Ravens ranked second, third, and second in points allowed between the 2018 and 2020 seasons, respectively. Even in his down year in 2021, Martindale had the best run defense in the game. Rather than crafting ornate schemes and dropping eight guys in coverage, Martindale tried to scramble the quarterback's brain in every play.

Martindale had some success with the Giants after leaving Baltimore, eventually going to college and becoming the new DC at Michigan. Martindale's style is the football equivalent of downing a Red Bull and smashing the can with your forehead, and it worked perfectly for those Ravens teams.

3. Rex Ryan (2005-2008)

While many remember the bold and brash Ryan as head coach of the New York Jets that made back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances with Mark Sanchez, the son of the great Buddy Ryan cut his teeth as a defensive line coach on the immortal 2000 Ravens and the team's coordinator in the late 2000s.

In Ryan's four seasons, the team had a top-three scoring defense twice (once allowing the fewest points in the league) and a top-two rushing defense three times. Twice leading the league in interceptions, Ryan's defenses were aggressive, complex, and ruthlessly efficient.

If you were to show an alien what perfectly coached defensive football looked like, Ryan's 2006 and 2008 seasons come very close to it. Using the same scheme and some of the same players in his tenure as Jets coach, Ryan has the fewest and sixth-fewest points allowed in his first two seasons.

2. Dean Pees (2012-2017)

Pees' six-year reign is tied for the longest in team history, and he's one of only two who helped the Ravens hoist a Lombardi trophy. After years as an understudy under Bill Belichick as Patriots defensive coordinator, Pees is one of an incredibly small handful of coaches who effectively brought Belichick's scheme with him after leaving New England.

Pees coordinated a top-10 scoring defense three times in six years despite overseeing the final seasons of Lewis, Reed, and Haloti Ngata, among others. Pees' defenses look even more impressive in hindsight, as poor offenses routinely put him in very bad positions.

Pees would famously pull a Brett Favre and unretire twice to coordinate defense for Mike Vrabel and Arthur Smith in Tennessee and Atlanta, respectively. Pees has a reputation as one of the most difficult defensive minds to play against in NFL history, and his Ravens tenure may have been his most productive spot.

1. Marvin Lewis (1996-2001)

Ravens fans spent more than a decade hating Lewis, as he was the one who transformed the Bengals from a comical laughing spot to a respectable team that made the playoffs with regularity in his 16 seasons in Cincinnati. Before that, Lewis was a legendary coordinator in Baltimore.

A linebackers coach under Bill Cowher, Lewis was hired to be the first defensive coordinator in Ravens history by Ted Marchibroda. Lewis' first few seasons in Baltimore were solid, but what he did in 2000 affirms him as one of the great leaders and defensive minds in NFL history.

Lewis' team set a record for the fewest points allowed in a 16-game season, shut out their opponents four times, and allowed just one offensive touchdown in four playoff games.

Lewis, who coordinated three straight defenses that ranked second in fewest yards allowed, followed up his legendary 2000 season by ranking fourth in points allowed in 2001.

While the 2000 Ravens defense would have been championship-worthy regardless of his presence due to the boatload of complementary talent, it was Lewis' sharp football mind that helped put them in a place to succeed. It will take a legendary performance for anyone to knock Lewis, back in the NFL with the Raiders, out of the top spot.

Every defensive coordinator in Baltimore Ravens history



Years with Ravens


Marvin Lewis



Mike Nolan



Rex Ryan



Greg Mattison



Chuck Pagano



Dean Pees



Wink Martindale



Mike Macdonald



Zach Orr