Of late, big plays few and far between for Ravens' defense

The Ravens' offense has gotten a lot of heat for Ray Rice's lack of carries Sunday and the balance - or lack thereof - in the offensive play-calling. The special teams also haven't been immune to criticism, as fumbles, missed field goals and subpar efforts from the return and coverage teams have played a key factor in losses.

But the guys on the defensive side of the ball haven't exactly been thrilled with their play of late, either, especially when it comes to one category: turnovers forced.

Securing takeaways has always been a point of pride with this Ravens defense, dating all the way back to the 2000 Super Bowl team, which forced a ridiculous 49 turnovers that season.

In recent weeks, there's been a significant dropoff in that category, something which is starting to eat at the guys on this current defensive unit.

"That's our No. 1 goal. Our No. 1 goal is (to) keep points off the board and create turnovers," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That's our No. 1 thing."

Through the first four games of the season, this defense was on pace to challenge that 2000 team for the franchise record for most takeaways in a season. In that four-game stretch, the current D forced 14 turnovers (seven of which came in a Week 1 win over the Steelers alone), an average of 3.5 takeaways per game.

Over the last month and a half, however, the takeaways have dramatically dropped off. The Ravens have forced just five turnovers since a Week 4 win over the Jets, working out to an average of just one takeaway per game.

Haloti_Ngata-tall-hit-Jets.jpgThey've lost the turnover battle in four of those five games, and have seen their overall turnover margin drop to plus-1, tied for 13th-best in the NFL.

What's been the difference? Why the abundance of turnovers forced early in the season and so few lately? Linebacker Jarret Johnson says a lot of it has to do with how tight the games have been the last few weeks.

"Pittsburgh was a close game, so we didn't really get a lot of chances to tee off and bring a lot of pressure," Johnson said. "Arizona, they ran the ball a bunch of times, and then this last game, (Seattle) ran the ball like 40 times. So it's tough to really get interceptions and hit the quarterback and create picks and big hits when they're simply lining up and running the ball. You can force fumbles by stripping them, but that's tough to do. When we get leads and make them one-dimensional and make them throw the ball, that's when the turnovers come."

Lewis agreed, adding that teams have made it tough for the Ravens to get pressure to the quarterback lately by often keeping seven guys in to block. The key, Lewis said, is getting that pressure and allowing the flow of the game to force quarterbacks to try and make plays through the air.

"At the end of the day, we'll find a way to get to him," Lewis said. "It's just do you have that much time to get to him? If the balance of the game goes the way it's supposed to go, then it'll create opportunities themselves, because they'll be in third-and-longs, they'll be playing from behind. They'll have to throw the ball more instead of playing in those dink and dunk (situations), run the ball 42 or 45 times, that safe ball, so that we don't get into the rhythm that we usually get into."

How important is it to win the turnover margin in any given game? Well, I'll tell you.

Since 2000, when the Ravens' turnover margin is negative, they're just 15-55. When the turnover margin is even, the Ravens are 16-16. When that ratio is plus-1 or better, the Ravens are 78-4, and when they have at least two more turnovers than their opponent, the Ravens are a sparkling 56-1.

That's why head coach John Harbaugh says the Ravens constantly focus on trying to create turnovers in practice, although he cautioned that guys can't sacrifice their overall positional responsibilities in order to try and force a takeaway.

"You try to create them with hard hits," Harbaugh said. "You try to create them by stripping the ball, especially in the run game, but also in the pass game. You get your hand in there (and) you bat balls at the line of scrimmage. You step in front of throws; sometimes they throw them to you. But it's very important for us to do that.

"What you don't do, you don't step outside the responsibility of the defense to try to create something that's not there and give up a big play. Because there are priorities in the pecking order, and the priority in the pecking order is to get a stop first. If we can get a turnover as we do that, we definitely want to do that."

blog comments powered by Disqus