How Michigan football and the Baltimore Ravens are inextricably tied beyond the Harbaugh brothers

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — While there may be differences, if you look at the current iteration of the Michigan Wolverines and the Baltimore Ravens, you’ll see more and more similarities of late.

Of course, there are obvious reasons for that. Jim Harbaugh leads the maize and blue while his older brother John is the head coach of the Ravens. And now Michigan has two coaches on staff who were with Baltimore a year ago in defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald and quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss.

But when you look at Michigan at the moment, it’s running the ball with impunity when passing the ball has become the nouveau trend in the sport across all levels. Through two games, the Ravens lead the NFL in rushing, averaging 220 yards on the ground per game, a good 50-plus yards more than the nearest competitor in the league. Likewise, Michigan football is the top rushing program through three games, averaging 350.33 yards per contest.

With that in mind, how much does Jim talk to John about the two teams mirroring each other? According to the Wolverines coach, it goes beyond just running the football.

“Quite a bit. Quite a bit, really. In almost all ways,” Harbaugh said. “Offensive philosophy, defensive philosophy, special teams philosophy. Coaches that have coached at the Ravens, coaches who have coached at the 49ers or Stanford. As you know, as recently as last year, Mike Macdonald was on the defensive side, Matt Weiss on the offensive side. My brother John — yeah. There’s a lot of similarities.

“We strive to have similarities with the Ravens. Because, gosh — what a game. That was an unbelievable game last night. People say the Buffalo Bills, no one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills, but nobody circles the wagons like the Baltimore Ravens!”

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Michigan needed a change after a disaster of a 2020 season when it went 2-4 and just about nothing was working. Jim leaned on John when it came to figuring out what needed to change, and John was kind enough to make coaching recommendations, allowing Jim to poach Macdonald, who was considered Baltimore’s defensive coordinator-in-waiting when Wink Martindale retires.

When it comes to brotherly affinity, it turns out the duo talk mostly about football and just about nothing else.

“Yeah, everything — running game, passing game, defense, coverage, blitzes, special teams play, all that,” Harbaugh said. “All comes up. All football things. We mostly talk football.”

On Sunday night, as the 0-1 Ravens sought their first win against the powerhouse Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore could have punted and given the ball back to Patrick Mahomes and that electric offense, up only one point with a minute left. However, John asked quarterback Lamar Jackson if he wanted to go for it on fourth-and-1, and Jackson decided to keep the ball in his hands.

The Ravens converted and won the game.

Jim Harbaugh said that he wasn’t surprised by the decision, noting that Jackson had really bought into what John and his staff were selling and that made the decision easy for his brother to lean on his star player on offense.

“I know that he knew that that was the right thing to do,” Harbaugh said. “He was getting the double buy-in from Lamar. Honestly, Lamar is just so great. Once he had that double buy-in from Lamar, they were prepared and confident and got it. I really think all he needed was that double buy-in from Lamar and they would get it.”

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