The numbers look odd and reversed — even after just four weeks, even with Terrell Suggs out and a new up-tempo offense in. These are the Ravens, after all, a franchise where a dominant defense and underwhelming offense have meshed successfully for years.
The Ravens don't give up nearly 400 yards of total offense and 300 passing yards per game, and they certainly don't rank in the top five in the NFL in overall yards, passing yards and total points per game.
"Yeah, it's kind of weird," said Ravens nose tackle Terrence Cody. "We love to see the offense doing good, any defense would. At the same time, on defense, we're trying to find our identity right now. All that matters is the 'W,' but we like to look at stats sometimes as a defense."
An imposing and intimidating defense has long been the franchise's identity, but heading into Sunday's game against the struggling Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, the Ravens have allowed an average of 390.3 yards against per game, which ranks 23rd in the NFL, and 295.8 passing yards per game, which is 29th in the league. No Ravens team has ever given up more total yards (1,561) and more passing yards (1,183) through the first four games than these Ravens.
Yet, as Cody pointed out, the Ravens are 3-1 and they've gotten to this point by relying on a new formula. Their offense trails only the New England Patriots in yards per game (424). The Ravens are also fourth in the NFL in pass offense (310.3 yards per game) and fifth in points scored (30.3 points per game). No Ravens team in franchise history has more total yards (1,696) and more passing yards (1,241) than the current group racked up over the first four games.
"We're only four games through right now, so there could be a lot that changes from here until Week 17 is over," said fifth-year quarterback Joe Flacco, who trails only Drew Brees and Eli Manning in passing yards this season. "If it works out that way, it does. We just have to keep winning games."
Like Flacco, several other Ravens cautioned that it was far too early to read anything into the bloated offensive numbers and lofty rankings. However, the Ravens, this season more than ever before, appear to have fallen in line with the current NFL, where high-flying offenses put up staggering passing numbers while defenses struggle to keep up.
"Regardless of what people want to say about the age thing, the older guys on our defense are Ray [Lewis] and Ed [Reed]. Our defense is very young right now. When you lose a Terrell Suggs — when you go through the adversity that we had to go through — and you lose the kind of guys that we lost, of course there is going to be a little bit of a rebuilding process," said Ravens running back Ray Rice. "Do I expect our defense to be ranked in the top 10, maybe Top 5 at the end of the year? Of course, because we've always done that — we've always gotten it together. Everybody's still figuring each other out, but the greatest part about being where we are at [is that] we finished the toughest part of the season 3-1."
When John Harbaugh and his coaching staff met in the offseason, they decided that their offense needed to be quicker and more explosive. Flacco would get more say in the play calling, and the offense would utilize the no-huddle to capitalize on mismatches and wear down defenses.
The early returns have been good. The Ravens have eight touchdown drives of 80 or more yards and 26 plays that have gained 20 or more. Both are league bests.
"Obviously, if we're winning, we're going to feel good about what we're doing," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We've scored some points, but I think all of our guys would say we haven't scored as many points as we could have. I don't know what all of our rankings are, to be honest with you [but] all of our guys would agree [that] we have not played our best offensive football yet. We haven't played as well as we're going to play. We think we're an improving offense."
From a defensive perspective, inside linebacker Ray Lewis has dismissed any questions about where his group currently ranks, saying that only matters at the end of the season. However, several other Ravens expressed a mixture of concern and disappointment.
"This is something we're not proud about," safety Bernard Pollard said. "Teams are going to get their passing yards against you, but there are a lot of plays that we wish we could take back."
The Ravens' defense has had its moments. It stopped the Patriots twice late in the fourth quarter as the Ravens erased a nine-point deficit. Cornerback Cary Williams, who has been targeted often by opposing quarterbacks, intercepted a pass from Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown, the decisive play in the Ravens' 23-16 victory last week.
The Ravens are allowing a respectable 20.8 points per game, their run defense has improved significantly, and they've been solid in the red zone, preventing teams from scoring touchdowns 46.7 percent of the time. Still, Harbaugh and first-year defensive coordinator Dean Pees are alarmed by the number of big plays the defense has given up.
"I've said before that I don't care about stats. Well, it's true, but not true," Pees said. "I do care. I don't want to give up yardage. I don't want to be ranked low, but the three stats to me that are the most important are points, third down [and] red area, because those usually all contribute to points, and then the fourth one is win. Do I want to give up yardage? No, but I want to make sure we are OK in those categories, and I see us coming up in those categories, and that to me is a big part of it."
This year's stats aside, Lewis — with his menacing glare — remains the face of the Ravens, and that will likely stay true until the day the linebacker calls it quits on a Hall of Fame career. But Lewis, who has had to compensate for a sluggish offense for many of his 17 seasons here, is the last person who is going to complain about how things are currently working out.
"I think when you look at the balance with what we have, it's kind of what's becoming more exciting than anything," Lewis said. "You look at how we can go into games, and you make a big stop as a defense, and then your offense can come in and instantly put three points [or] instantly put [up] seven points. You see the good teams: the good teams have that balance."
Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun