Weekly Yardage Rankings Can Be Deceptive
RAVENS' DEFENSIVE NUMBERS PAINT CLEARER PICTURE
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- There's no doubt football fans everywhere are fascinated by rankings. This week's various power polls, many of which have the Ravens ranked first as allegedly the best team in football, are a good example.
But the weekly yardage rankings, the ones showing how well any given team's offense or defense is performing, can be a bit deceiving. After all, they only show how many yards per game are gained or allowed by a given team. They are not a true indicator of how efficiently those units are playing, nor how many wins or losses are caused by having exceedingly high or low totals.
However, the rankings have been around for as long as anyone can remember, and they are certainly here to stay. In the Ravens' case, they have pretty much told the story of how they have performed year to year. Particularly the case on defense, where the 4-1 Ravens are currently third in the league by virtue of allowing 257.8 yards per game, trailing only the New York Giants (244.6) and San Diego Chargers (246.2).
In the team's early years when it scored a ton of points rather quickly and gave them up in even more rapid fashion, the Ravens had a young defense certainly suffering through some growing pains.
Younger fans who don't remember the sieve-like unit Baltimore put on the field in its 1996 debut season might be surprised to know the Ravens ranked last of 30 teams, allowing a stunning 368.1 yards per game. Appropriately, the team finished 4-12, losing all of its road games.
The Ravens' next opponents, the New England Patriots, are going through something similar right now as they attempt to rebuild their defense with younger players culled from the draft. New England is 3-2, but is allowing 384.5 yards per game, ranking it 29th in the league.
Starting in 1999, the Ravens began a stunning defensive run still in progress. They have ranked sixth or higher in the year-end defensive rankings in all but one season since finishing 22nd in 2002. And the progress has translated to bottom-line success, what with six playoff appearances, two division titles and a Super Bowl title in 2000.
But even if the correlation between stats and wins is clear, there is one fact rather hard to believe: Baltimore has finished with the league's No. 1 defense on just one occasion in team history ... and it wasn't in 2000.
The 13-3 team earning the Ravens the No. 2 AFC playoff seed in 2006 allowed a league-low 264.1 yards per game.
Through the years, the Ravens' offensive numbers have been even more deceptive. The team has had plenty of contending years and postseason success despite never having averaged more than 357 yards worth of offense in any of their 14 full seasons preceding 2010.
In fact, last year's 351.2 per-game average was the most Baltimore put on the board per game since the inaugural 1996 squad averaged 357.7 yards per contest. The figures are similar, but while the '96 team went 4-12 with a poor defense, last year's squad won five more games and advanced to the divisional (second) playoff round.
Currently, the Ravens are 19th in the league with a 328.2 per-game pace, the product of a minus-6 turnover ratio and inconsistent, spotty play. The offense had not scored more than 24 points in six straight regular season games until last Sunday's 31-17 win over the Denver Broncos.
That's an important statistic in the John Harbaugh era. When the team breaks the 24-point barrier under Harbaugh, it usually wins (18-1). The lone loss came at Minnesota last year, when a 33-31 defeat could have been turned into a victory if a last-second field-goal try had been successful.
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME: Last Sunday, the Oakland Raiders became only the 10th team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to block two punts in a single game. But which team did it against the Ravens?
Hint: Tt's a non-division team on the Ravens' 2010 schedule.
Posted October 13, 2010