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baltimoresun.com

Ravens winning games despite losing turnover battle

By Matt Vensel

7:00 AM EDT, October 10, 2013

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One of the tenets of John Harbaugh’s tenure in Baltimore has been winning the turnover battle.

Since Harbaugh was hired as head coach before the 2008 season, the Ravens have turned the ball over just 113 times, the fourth-fewest total in the league. Having a responsible quarterback in Joe Flacco and a reliable running back in Ray Rice has had a lot to do with that ball security. The most interceptions Flacco has thrown in a season were 12 and Rice has never fumbled more than twice in any regular season.

“That’s always going to be the No. 1 priority on offense, to protect the football,” Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “We use the term ‘aggressive ball security.’ … Sure, it’s a big priority.”

The Baltimore defense has forced 150 turnovers since 2008, putting them in the top 10 in takeaways over that span, too.

Put it all together and Baltimore has been third in the league since 2008 with a plus-37 turnover differential, behind only the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, their home opponents this weekend. The Ravens were on the plus side in turnover differential in each of Harbaugh’s first five seasons.

So far this season, though, the Ravens have only won the turnover battle in one game and they have a minus-four turnover differential through their first five games.

The Ravens have uncharacteristically turned the ball over seven times in the past two weeks, including Flacco’s five interceptions in the loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 4. Flacco already has thrown eight interceptions this season and Rice, who started to have issues with ball security in last year’s playoffs, has already lost a pair of fumbles.

Harbaugh acknowledged Wednesday that this Ravens team needs to do a better job of protecting the ball, though he said that each turnover should stand alone by itself.

“You’ve got to look at each one and see what you can correct. I really don’t think the ball should ever be fumbled, personally,” he said. “Those should be so rare that they should almost never happen. Interceptions can happen, but of course, you like to keep those rare, too.”

As for the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens have just six takeaways despite harassing quarterbacks with a pass rush that ranks second in the NFL with 19 sacks.

“We’re not going to be a great defense if we don’t get the ball off people, whether it be caused fumbles [or] interceptions,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said two weeks ago.

Right now, only six teams have a worse turnover differential than the Ravens, who has a winning record in spite of it. Harbaugh knows that his team will likely have to buck this trend if his Ravens are to have similar success to what they had in his first five seasons in the league.

“It bodes well if we start winning the turnover battle,” he said.