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Recent playoff teams with deficient secondaries give Ravens hope

Recent playoff teams with deficient secondaries give Ravens hope
Ravens cornerback Danny Gorrer, left, defends as San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen scores a touchdown Sunday. (Mitch Stringer, USA Today Sports)

There's plenty to support the idea that the 2014 Ravens are a middle-of-the-road NFL team, one that has feasted on bad teams and could go the entire season without beating a non-NFC South playoff team and thus, won't become one themselves.

But there's also enough evidence out there to say they're a pretty good team that doesn't do one rather important thing well.

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The Ravens boast the NFL's fifth-best rushing offense with 1,000-yard rusher Justin Forsett leading the way and whichever of Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro the coaching staff isn't mad at spelling him on Sundays. Quarterback Joe Flacco, for all his frustrating qualities, has played efficiently and effectively this year and could be on pace for his best season yet. And the team's run defense is fourth-best in football.

The Ravens easily could be a top-level team with one brutally bad feature, the 31st-ranked pass defense, to hold it back. However, there's a blueprint for success for teams built that way, even in the passing league that the NFL has become.

Since 2009, the average pass defense of an AFC playoff team was 14th, an admittedly small sample but noteworthy in that at least a middle-of-the-road pass defense is required for success in the conference. In the AFC more so than the NFC, a top-half pass defense has been the norm for playoff teams, with 18 of 30 AFC playoff teams in that stretch ranking in the top half of the NFL in pass defense.

Over the last five seasons, a total of six AFC teams have made the playoffs with a pass defense in the bottom fourth in that category: the New England Patriots in 2010, 2011, and 2012, plus the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and San Diego Chargers a year ago. A total of seven such teams have made the NFC playoffs, including one each year.

Of those 13 total teams, four have reached the Super Bowl (New Orleans in 2009, New England and the New York Giants in 2011, and Denver in 2013), with the Saints and Giants both winning with defenses ranked 26th and 29th in passing yards allowed, respectively.

The Saints had a great passing attack with Drew Brees leading the NFL with 34 touchdown passes, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw for nearly 5,000 yards en route to his second Super Bowl win in 2011.

So it can be done. It's totally reasonable to traffic in doom and gloom, especially when you blow a 10-point lead at home in the span of six minutes. But plenty of other scenarios existed in that game where the lead could have been double that, and the whole conversation is moot.

It's plenty easy to grab hold of the idea that there's no way this team can win with the presently constructed secondary, and it's probably not wrong. But teams have gone much farther than the Ravens are given a chance to before with just as little to work with.

You've been warned.

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