2018 Ravens Review: One Quarter Down, Three To Go

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Hard to believe, but the Ravens are already one quarter of the way through their season.  Feels like only a week ago the team was getting ready for that absolute curb stomping against the Buffalo Bills, but here we are, nearly all our division road games done, and starting to accumulate some meaningful stats on the season.  It’s hard to read much into any single game, but with four in the book now, it becomes clearer which things are trends and which thing are just one game flukes.  For example, after starting the season on pace to score 752 points on the year, that 47 points a game was clearly an outlier.  But there are several things we can see are happening often enough to be storylines we can expect or hope to continue through the season.

 

First, a look at 4 games of Ravens Stats:

 

Passing Offense: 8th in Yardage, T-11th in Scoring

Rushing Offense: 23rd in Yardage, T-3rd in Scoring

Team Offense: 10th in Yardage, 5th in Scoring

 

Passing Defense: 4th in Yardage, T-6th in Scoring

Rushing Defense: 4th in Yardage, T-7th in Scoring

Total Defense: 2nd in Yardage, T-4th in Scoring

 

Statistically, the Ravens passing offense is establishing itself among the league’s best right now.  The rushing attack is not producing many yards, but is clearly well utilized in the Red Zone, as we have 6 rushing TDs, tied for 3rd most in the league.  The defense is, in a word, smothering.  They are Top 10 in all the yards and scoring categories, and they are doing it while only averaging 1.5 turnovers a game.  That shows that this defense may not take the ball away from their opponent, but they do a good job at disrupting the play and getting them off the field.

 

Beyond the statistics, here are some observations I have made through the first four games:

  • Joe Flacco may have finally found the right group of WRs to make things work.  Joe’s first four games to start the year is possibly his best start ever, and certainly his best first four games since 2009, when he threw 8 TDs and 3 INTs with an average QB rating of 95.7.  His average over these first four games has been 99 QBR, and he’s thrown for 8 TDs and only 2 INTs this year.  Possibly even more impressive is that he has done it without a major rushing attack to divert the defensive effort against.  Joe’s ability to connect with his WRs has been a yearly storyline, but clearly he is finding his stride and his trust with his new group.  While John Brown has developed into his biggest receiving yard target, Willie Snead and Michael Crabtree are getting close to the same number of catches, with even a few Chris Moore targets sprinkled in.  All these stats have also come without the projected top Tight End of the group, with Hayden Hurst now just days away from making his NFL debut.  Joe Flacco is currently 8th in the NFL in Passing Yards and Completions.  Looking at the schedule through the rest of the season, he isn’t going to have to face a current Top 10 passing defense the rest of the way.  The best pass defenses left on the schedule are the Titans (12th), Panthers (13th), and Raiders (18th).  Joe and his revamped WR buddies have started strong and the potential is still there for an absolute career year if they can keep it up.

 

  • The running attack is efficient, but not very imposing.  After his big season last year, many fans were big on Alex Collins having a huge season, with predictions as high as 1200-1400 yards on the ground.  Through 4 games, Collins only has 158 yards.    That’s on track for just 632 yards on the year, far shy of the hopes for a 1000+ yard back that many fans were hoping for.  The Ravens as a team rank 23rd in rushing yards per game.  While the passing attack is currently getting the job done, it’ll be challenging for the Ravens offensive coaches to keep that success going if teams are able to focus their defense against the pass and stop stacking 8 in the box to stop the run.  In addition to the struggles in breaking yardage, Collins also has developed a bit of a fumbling issue with 2 so far this season, 1 of which literally took points off the board as he coughed it up on the goal line against the Steelers.  The Ravens brought De’Lance Turner onto the team when Kenneth Dixon went to IR, but there’s no major relief coming this season if Collins and the running game can’t produce more on the ground.

 

  • The Ravens Defense has become a STUD at closing out games.  The biggest knock on Dean Pees as a Defensive Coordinator was his tendency to give up yards and points at the end of the game, constantly seeming to let the team bleed point leads away.  This came to a fever pitch with the Bengals game to close out 2017, when he changed from Man to Zone coverage and the D gave up a long TD to give the Bengals the win.  Wink Martindale took over with a fresh approach, choosing to give players more ability to change coverages on the field.  It’s worked well, as the Ravens have not given up a TD in the 2nd half over all four games, and have only given up a total of 3 Field Goals in the 2nd half all season.  More impressive is that in 2 of the 4 games, the Ravens were either behind or tied at Halftime, which just put more pressure on the Defense to hold strong and not rely on a cushion of a lead.  Of all the 2nd half drives on Defense, only 3 have ended with a turnover.  This is just a case of the Defense playing smart and safe, but also being aggressive to not allow the long, methodical drives that slowly work all the way down the field.

 

  • The Ravens Pass Defense is one of the best in the NFL, confirmed.  We all knew this ahead of the season, but some pundits tried to claim the Ravens secondary was just average.  While the Ravens don’t top all the pass defense stats (They rank 5th in pass yardage allowed, 4th in Passing Points Allowed), they are the BEST in the NFL in QB rating against and average Yards per Pass.  This was all done WITHOUT their top cornerback in Jimmy Smith, who returns from suspension this week.  This was done after losing depth CBs like Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Maurice Canady to injuries.  This Ravens secondary is likely to just keep getting better, and could very well top all the lists by the time the season ends.  They aren’t forcing a lot of turnovers, but are doing a good job of blanketing opposing WRs (even AJ Green, who caught 3 TDs in Week 2, was held relatively quiet after the 1st half in that game).  Brandon Carr has been an absolute beat filling the Jimmy Smith hole in the secondary, as he has constantly stayed with his coverage and broken up 6 passes, hauling in one interception.

 

Through 4 games, the Ravens have earned a 3-1 mark, and came somewhat close to being 4-0 had they not been a bit outcoached in Cincinnati in Week 2.  The team overcame a tremendous deficit to make it close, but bungled in the end by wasting end of game opportunities.  That said, this team seems to be well positioned to make a mark on the league in the last 12 games, but first up, they will need to show they can continue these trends against a fired up and rejuvenated Browns team.

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