In the Ravens’ season-opening 35-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, they registered four sacks and caused a whopping seven turnovers. In Week 4 against the New York Jets, the defense went off again, this time causing three turnovers and scoring touchdowns on every single one of them.
After seven games, Chuck Pagano’s defense had registered 25 sacks (3.5 per game), picked off seven passes, and recovered nine opponents’ fumbles. They were averaging over two takeaways per game, and were on pace to challenge the franchise record for sacks.
Over the last two games, though, they have managed only two sacks (one each of Ben Roethlisberger and Tarvaris Jackson), and caused one “real” turnover (the stats will show two from the Pittsburgh game, but Mike Wallace “fumbling” while running a desperation hook-and-ladder play doesn’t really count for our purposes).
The severe lack of impact plays from the defense has been a glaring problem in each of the team’s three losses.
Tennessee: 0 sacks, 1 interception, 0 fumbles
Jacksonville: 4 sacks, 0 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery
Seattle: 1 sack, 0 turnovers
In their three losses, the Ravens are averaging 1.3 sacks, 0.3 interceptions, and 0.3 fumble recoveries per game.
To contrast, in their six victories, they have 23 sacks (3.8 per game), 7 interceptions (1.2 per game), and 9 fumble recoveries (1.5 per game).
Big plays on defense have been a staple of Ravens’ teams going all the way back to Marvin Lewis’s tenure as defensive coordinator. When the team gets big plays from the “D,” they more often than not come out on top.
Is that stating the obvious? In a way, sure. Most teams that score a defensive (or special teams) touchdown or win the turnover battle by two or more will greatly improve their statistical chances of winning that particular game.
Some teams, though, are able to overcome a lack of big plays on defense and still win football games. We need look no further than our own division, where the Pittsburgh Steelers have caused only six turnovers all season (four interceptions, two fumbles), and have a turnover margin of -10 (tied for worst in the NFL with the 0-10 Indianapolis Colts), and yet boast a 7-3 record. In the NFC, the New Orleans Saints have caused only nine turnovers and sit at -5 for the season, yet they are also 7-3 and atop their division.
As evidenced by the Ravens’ numbers in their three losses, they do not yet possess the kind of offensive firepower to overcome losing the turnover battle or failing to produce impact plays on defense.
The Ravens’ biggest playmakers on defense have been uncharacteristically absent during the team’s recent 3-2 post-bye stretch of games.
Terrell Suggs: Sizzle started the season gang-busters, bringing down Ben Roethlisberger three times in the opening game. He has failed to register a single game with multiple sacks since though, managing just one each against St. Louis, Jacksonville, and Arizona, and none in the previous two games. To be fair though, Suggs did have a key interception on a tremendous play in Pittsburgh.
Ed Reed: Another guy who had a great Week 1 but has been very quiet since, the Ball Hawk hasn’t picked off a single pass since racking up two in the opening game. Reed had four total passes defended in that first game against Pittsburgh, but now has just five TOTAL for the season. Ed hasn’t made an impact play since he strip-sacked Mark Sanchez in Week 4. His eight-game streak without a pick is his longest since 2005, when he missed six games and finished the season with only one. Again to be fair, Reed got his hands on a Kevin Kolb pass in Week 8, but had his interception overturned by a terrible pass interference call on Lardarius Webb.
Lardarius Webb: Webby has had a very good season overall. He has been solid in run support and leads the team with 10 passes defended. Since interceptions in back-to-back weeks against St. Louis and New York though, he has been unable to haul in any more.
Ray Lewis: Ray had an interception in Week 1, and nearly another one on Kolb in Week 8. He only has two sacks on the season though, despite regularly rushing the passer, and none since Week 6 against Houston. Still, he played well enough to be named a 2nd-team All-Pro for the first half of the season by Pro Football Focus. His most recent game in Seattle, however, was bad enough to be called “the worst of his career” by the Baltimore Sun’s Mike Preston.
Haloti Ngata: Another guy who, along with Suggs, heard his name in the running for Defensive Player of the Year after the first quarter of the season, Ngata’s play has also dropped off. After batting down passes in Weeks 1 and 2 (both of which were intercepted), Ngata hasn’t gotten his hands on any since. Haloti forced fumbles against Pittsburgh and the Jets, and had sacks in consecutive games against New York, Houston, and Jacksonville, but has been quiet in the last three contests. He registered 11 tackles in Seattle, but most were several yards downfield.
Paul Kruger: A pleasant surprise this season has been Kruger, who has stepped up to pick up some of the slack left by the above players. The former “bust” out of Utah is second on the team with 4.5 sacks, all of which have come in the last four games.
It’s great that Kruger, and to a lesser extent, rookie Pernell McPhee (3 sacks) have stepped up and started to make plays. Also, there is of course the incessant chirping from the fan base about the misuse of Ray Rice by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. For this team to truly get to where they want to go this year though, the Ravens’ big-name defensive players need to get back to what they do best – making big defensive plays.