In going 10-6 last year and advancing to the second round of the playoffs, the Ravens set several offensive records, featured one of the top pass rushes in the NFL and had a typically sound and effective special teams unit.
By the time the playoffs rolled around, the Ravens were playing as well as any team in the AFC and as proof, they built two different 14-point leads on the road in the divisional round against the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
But some of their season-long shortcomings surfaced at the worst possible time and the battle-tested Patriots took full advantage.
As the Ravens prepare for training camp later this month, here are 10 statistics that need to get better if they’re going to take the next step as a team. Full credit to Pro Football Focus which provided many of the statistics below:
41 percent third-down conversion rate: The Ravens weren’t bad on third downs last season - they ranked 14th in the NFL. But if they’re going to go from being a very good offense in 2014 to a great one in 2015, this number needs to increase. If you look at the top offenses in the league last year, one of the constants is third-down success. The Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles all ranked in the top-10 in third-down conversion percentage last season. It would also help the Ravens immensely to improve on their 54.93 red-zone touchdown percentage.
56 passing attempts over 20 yards: Joe Flacco is considered one of the best deep-ball throwers in the NFL and he had an impressive 50% accuracy rate with 11 touchdowns on “deep throws,” per Pro Football Focus. That rate was fifth in the NFL. However, his 56 attempts on passes over 20 yards ranked just 16th. In comparison, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made 79 attempts of over 20 yards. Flacco’s decision making was much better last season, but it wouldn’t hurt, especially with speedster Breshad Perriman now in the fold, to take a few more deep shots.
37 drops: Only Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was victimized by more dropped passes than Flacco was in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus. To put the number of drops in perspective, the Dallas Cowboys were credited with only 10 all season. Torrey Smith, now with the San Francisco 49ers, finished second in the NFL with 11 drops, but he was hardly the only culprit. Steve Smith dropped eight balls. The Ravens’ receivers spend a ton of time catching balls from the JUGS machine before and after practice and that needs to carry over into the games.
6.1 broken-tackle percentage: OK, this is clearly nitpicking. However, imagine how much more dangerous the Ravens’ offense could be if it was generating even more big plays down the field. Per Football Outsiders, the Ravens broke tackles on just 6.1 percent of their offensive plays. Only seven teams had lower percentages. As good as he was last season, Justin Forsett ranked 19th among NFL backs in breaking tackles. Steve Smith was one of the leaders in breaking tackles among receivers, but the Ravens could use their other receivers to be a little more elusive.
117 missed tackles: Thirteen teams missed more tackles than the Ravens, so Dean Pees’ defense was in the middle of the pack here. But the Ravens would admit that’s not good enough for a defense that prides itself on being stout and physical. The secondary’s tackling was particularly poor and it came back to haunt them in the playoff loss to the Patriots. Safety Matt Elam led all Ravens with 16 missed tackles.
249 passing yards allowed per game: This is the most obvious one of them all. The Ravens ranked 23rd in the NFL in pass defense as a secondary riddled by injuries struggled to keep up. Poor communication, faulty fundamentals and inexperience all came into play. The Ravens are hoping that this unit will be better with the improved health of Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Asa Jackson, and the acquisitions of cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Kendrick Lewis.
22 caused turnovers: Ravens’ defensive players were particularly annoyed that they didn’t cause more turnovers last year and it’s been a major point of emphasis in the various summer workouts. Their 22 forced turnovers ranked 22nd in the league. Only 10 teams caused fewer and only one team from that group – the Steelers – advanced to the playoffs. The Ravens’ 11 interceptions tied a franchise low. Since 2000, the Ravens are 95-11 when they have a positive turnover ratio. It’s a winning formula.
29:40 time of possession average: The Ravens lost the time of possession battle to their opponents last season by an average of 40 seconds per game. It doesn’t seem like much until you consider teams like the Steelers and Seahawks possessed the ball for over 32 minutes per game. The Ravens don’t have a quick-strike offense nor did they rely a ton last year on a no-huddle attack. At their best, the Ravens want to sustain drives and force three-and-outs on defense, so they can control the clock. Last year, the Ravens’ defense allowed an average of 5.9 plays per drive. That was 25th in the NFL. The defense needs to get off the field quicker.
120 penalties: Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have prided themselves on being a more disciplined team. However, only seven teams were called for more penalties than the Ravens were last year. Of those seven, five made the playoffs and the top-two penalized teams – the Patriots and the Seahawks – played in the Super Bowl, so perhaps we’re making too big of a deal of this statistic. Still, Harbaugh is always looking to see his team penalized less.
4-4 road record: Dominating at home and finishing .500 on the road is the recipe for a successful season, and the Ravens were a much improved road team last year. However, of the AFC’s six playoff teams last season, four of them had winning road records. In order to achieve things, like a division title, a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the postseason for one or two rounds, the Ravens are either going to need to be perfect at home – they were 6-2 last year – or just a little bit better on the road.