Baltimore Ravens

To 'protect the reputation of this organization,' Ravens need turnovers on defense, and fast

In the first quarter of the Ravens' victory over the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 1, Ray Lewis acknowledged the crowd after a commemorative video montage played on the M&T Bank Stadium scoreboard. At some point during Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Peter Boulware will do the same. The following week, with the St. Louis Rams in town, it will be Ed Reed's turn to bask in fans' adulation.

The Ravens are celebrating their 20th season in Baltimore by honoring the franchise's all-time-best players. The walks down memory lane provide a stark reminder of the Ravens' intimidating and ball-hawking defenses of yesteryear, and how poorly the current defense has measured up.


When the Ravens defense takes the field for the first time Sunday afternoon against the Jaguars, it will be burdened by a streak of five consecutive games without a takeaway. The Ravens have gone 57 drives since they last forced a turnover, in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Ravens (2-6) have forced four or more turnovers in 51 games in franchise history, including the postseason. The current team has just four takeaways in eight games.


Creating turnovers is "what we have to do to protect the reputation of this organization," safety Will Hill said.

Heading into Sunday's game against the 2-6 Jaguars, the Ravens have the NFL's 24th-ranked defense. The unit is 29th against the pass and last on third downs.

Not only are the Ravens' four turnovers tied with the Dallas Cowboys for a league low, the teams also are on pace to set an NFL record for fewest takeaways in a season. The record of 11 is shared by the 1982 Baltimore Colts and the 2013 Houston Texans, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Ravens had myriad problems in the season's first half on both sides of the ball, but their failure to produce turnovers is perhaps their biggest, if only because of its correlation to winning and losing. Every NFL team entering Sunday with a negative turnover margin — the Ravens and Jaguars are both minus-seven — has a losing record.

Meanwhile, the NFL's three undefeated teams — the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers — are a combined plus-17.

"If we're getting turnovers, our record is dramatically different," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team has lost its six games by a combined 30 points. "Those games could have turned on one turnover."

In a narrow season-opening loss to the Denver Broncos on Sept. 13, middle linebacker Daryl Smith dropped a potential interception, and had a sure path to the end zone. In the Sept. 20 loss to the Oakland Raiders, Hill thought he had made the game-securing interception, but he was called for a defensive-holding penalty, and Derek Carr threw the game-winning touchdown on the next play.

Three times against the San Francisco 49ers, Ravens defenders dropped potential interceptions. The 49ers scored on every one of those drives in a 25-20 victory Oct. 18.


"We've got to get over that hump, just keep on fighting, keep competing, keep working at it at practice, making it a big deal to get interceptions and stripping the ball," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "Any kind of turnover, we need it on this defense. That will make this defense go. That's why we haven't been coming up with wins at the end of the game. We're not getting that one turnover."

The last turnover the Ravens created was outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil's strip-sack of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, which inside linebacker C.J. Mosley returned for a touchdown Sept. 27. The Ravens have gone more than 320 minutes since creating another turnover.

"I don't think it's ever a point where you are overthinking it when it comes to turnovers. Some years, you get a lot; some years, you don't," said defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who lamented that the Ravens weren't playing aggressively enough to force turnovers. "But it's always about getting to the ball and hustling to the ball, no matter what it is. That's what we have to make sure that we're doing."

In 2008, Harbaugh's first season, the Ravens forced a league-high 34 turnovers, a total that has decreased every year since. The Ravens haven't been in the top 15 in the NFL in takeaways since 2012, and last year, they forced just 22 turnovers, including a franchise-low-tying 11 interceptions.

It has been a steady decline from 2000, when the Ravens' vaunted defense forced 49 turnovers, a number no NFL team has reached since.

Harbaugh has emphasized the importance of turnovers to his players over the past several weeks. He borrowed a metaphor from his father, Jack, who equated getting a turnover to taking an olive out of a jar. The point of the story was that once the first one comes, the next few follow pretty easily.


"The ball finds energy," Harbaugh said, borrowing another saying from a family member, this one courtesy of his brother-in-law, Indiana men's basketball coach Tom Crean. "You don't play with any guilt if you're doing the right thing. If your eyes are in the right spot, you're not going to get beat on a double move. So you can play as hard as you possibly can through your technique, and that's what we expect. We want to play with a level of energy that creates turnovers."

Some of the causes of the turnover drought are obvious. The season-ending injury to outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the franchise's all-time leader in sacks and forced fumbles, and the free-agent departure of outside linebacker Pernell McPhee have significantly limited the Ravens' pressure on quarterbacks. Quarterback hits create fumbles and errant passes, and quarterback pressures create rushed throws and bad decisions.

In the secondary, defensive backs are giving receivers room so that they don't get beat deep, which often takes them out of position to make a play on the ball.

"Some stuff might be scheme, showing one thing and disguising and putting yourself in the right position," Mosley said. "But for the most part, it's just about wanting to do it, having that effort to run an extra 5 yards and punch out the ball, or running across the field to make the extra tackle or play."

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Hill said the coaches have put in schemes they hope will create more opportunities for turnovers. Defensive players also have been doing drills in practice in which they attempt to punch the ball out of the hands of the ball carrier. In another, they hold the runner up while a teammate works on dislodging the ball.

But beyond that, several players said the Ravens just need to adopt a more aggressive mindset to win their one-on-one matchups and go after the football. That mentality was a staple of Ravens defenses of old.


Lewis would separate a running back or wide receiver from the ball with a jarring hit. Boulware would beat an offensive tackle and force a fumble. Reed would bait and pick off an opposing quarterback's pass.

Such moments suddenly seem so long ago.

"We have to make it a more conscious effort of trying to rake the ball out, or when you do have the opportunity, try to seize the moment," Dumervil said. "I know our team — we're working hard, and we're working at it. We just haven't got it, yet. We're very optimistic about the second half, though."