What separates new Seahawks coach Mike Macdonald? Analyst dives in

May 14, 2024, 3:00 PM | Updated: 7:12 pm

Seattle Seahawks Mike Macdonald 2024 rookie minicamp...

Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Macdonald talks with Byron Murphy II during 2024 rookie minicamp. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

When the Seattle Seahawks hired Mike Macdonald as new their head coach in January, they got a defensive guru who could be shaping the next wave of modern NFL defenses.

The 36-year-old Macdonald had a success-filled two-year run as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator, overseeing a Ravens defense that became the first in NFL history to lead the league in points allowed per game, sacks and takeaways this past season. Macdonald’s defensive scheme features a unique level of versatility and interchangeability, which allows him to constantly mix his fronts and pressures to confuse opposing offenses.

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Macdonald is now busy installing his scheme in Seattle, but his impact stretches far beyond the Pacific Northwest. Four of his previous assistant coaches became NFL defensive coordinators this offseason, which means there likely will be five NFL teams running some version of Macdonald’s defense this year.

Ted Nguyen of The Athletic delved into Macdonald’s defensive scheme in an article titled ‘How Mike Macdonald has NFL offenses guessing and defenses following his lead‘ that was published Monday. Nguyen then joined Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy on Tuesday to discuss what the Seahawks’ defense will look like under their cutting-edge coach.

‘The Sean McVay defense’

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay is widely considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. He brought an offensive philosophy to the Rams that was centered on an “illusion of complexity,” with a vast multitude of plays built on a limited number of formations and personnel groupings. Nguyen said Macdonald’s defense stems from a similar idea.

“Macdonald doesn’t run a ton of different defensive fronts,” Nguyen said. “But out of those fronts, he could run any pressure he wants, and then he could add different layers to it by switching this player here and there. That just presents a different type of presentation for the offense that they have to be prepared for.”

The crux of it all is positional versatility. Macdonald has an aggressive defensive approach, but Nguyen pointed out that he doesn’t actually blitz all that often. Instead, he uses a lot of simulated pressures – which is when one or more blitzers are sent from the second or third levels of the defense, coupled with one or more defensive linemen dropping into coverage. That allows the defense to create a vast number of looks, leaving opposing offenses struggling to determine where the pressure will come from.

“They create a lot of pressure on offenses just with all the different looks they give,” Nguyen said. “So as an offense, I have to be prepared for everything out of these fronts.”

A different way of teaching

One of the biggest keys to positional versatility in Macdonald’s defense, according to Nguyen, is the unique way he teaches his blitzes. Nguyen explained that most teams attach their pressures to specific defensive fronts, whereas Macdonald attaches his pressures to patterns. As a result, players end up learning the entire pressure pattern instead of just their individual roles. That allows them to better understand what their teammates are doing, and it ultimately enables them to switch positions and apply pressure from a wide variety of players and spots on the field.

“Macdonald teaches blitz patterns,” Nguyen said. “So he’s teaching, ‘OK, instead of this linebacker blitzing the A-gap, this player has to blitz in this A-gap. And if this player blitzes this A-gap, then this player on the weak side has to drop.’ Everybody kind of knows what each other is doing, so you could change up the front and you could change up which player is doing which job. … They’re just really learning the blitz as a whole, and that way everybody’s interchangeable.

“For the defense, it’s very inexpensive,” he added, “because we’re learning this one pressure pattern and they could run it from 10 different presentations. So for the offense, they have to prepare for 10 different blitzes potentially, whereas the defense is like, ‘We’re just running this one thing out of different presentations, because the way we learned it, we could easily switch things up.'”

Nguyen said Macdonald’s teaching acumen is ultimately what separates him as a coach.

“Even as he was becoming the Ravens’ defensive coordinator, the thing that I just kept on hearing about him is he’s a great teacher and he understands how players learn,” Macdonald said. “And I think that’s one of the things that really separates him as a coach and really kind of defines his system. I think a lot of systems are defined by schemes and fronts and coverages. But I think with Macdonald’s system, it’s really defined by how it’s organized and how it’s taught.

“You could apply any different schemes to the way he organizes things and the way he thinks through things. … What’s going to make him a great head coach is that he understands what players are thinking and how he can just make it easy on them on gameday, as far as learning what they need to learn and just executing on a field.”

Can Macdonald’s success be replicated in Seattle?

Macdonald’s league-best defense in Baltimore had a collection of star power that included four Pro Bowlers – defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, linebacker Roquan Smith, linebacker Patrick Queen and safety Kyle Hamilton. The Seahawks don’t appear to have that same level of talent on defense – at least not yet. So, even with the addition of Macdonald and his defensive scheme, how much improvement can reasonably be expected from a Seattle defense that finished 24th in points allowed last season?

“It’s definitely going to be adjustment period, and I wouldn’t expect the Seahawks to all of a sudden become a top-three type of defense right off the bat,” Nguyen said. “But again, I think with him being able to be so flexible and having the defense present so many problems for an offense as far as preparing for it and not knowing where the blitz is coming from, I think they should be better in that aspect of just really testing out offenses.

“There’s a lot of potential in these guys playing in this type of scheme and having an upgrade schematically, (and) just being able to be more organized and having better game plans against teams,” he added. “But it’ll take some time for the Seahawks’ personnel to kind of catch up to the Ravens and really have that defense challenging for a top-three type of spot.”

Listen to the full conversation from Tuesday’s Bump and Stacy in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post. Bump and Stacy airs live from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays on Seattle Sports.

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