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Predicting 2012's numbers: Defense and Special Teams

Here's the next installment of my stats predictions. This one focuses on the defense and special teams. The last post focused mostly on the question of what our offense will look like in terms of Joe Flacco's continued development (or, as some argue, lack thereof) and Ray Rice's usual dominance. This one focuses (mainly) on what the world will be like without Terrell Suggs.

DEFENSE

Defense totals 21 interceptions

The past: In 2011, the team brought in 15 INTs, led by Lardarius Webb with 5. Ed Reed came down with just 3, his lowest ever in a 16 game season. In 2010, the team had 19, with Reed pulling in 8 in only 10 games.

This year: Reed is in a contract year and wants a new deal. Webb is a beast who matches up well against the best WRs. Jimmy Smith, Cary Williams, and any backup DBs (Graham, Gorrer, Jackson, etc.) round out a secondary that looks better than we've had in years. If Webb continues where he was last year and Reed returns to form (say 6-7 INTs), it's realistic to look for another 10 or so from the rest of the team combined. True, we're playing a lot of elite QBs this year (if I've counted right, 5 have Super Bowl rings: Brady, Rothlisberger x2, Peyton Manning, and Eli Manning [interesting that the Mannings are in consecutive weeks]), but we've done fine against them before: in 2008, we led the league with 26 INTs in a schedule that included almost the same set: Rothlisberger x2, Peyton Manning, and Eli Manning. Especially with the league's shift toward passing since 2008, it's fair to say we can come close to those numbers. They might be great QBs, but even great QBs throw interceptions sometimes (well, except Aaron Rodgers, but we're not playing the Packers).

Defense totals [33] sacks...

The past: In 2011, the defense put up [48] sacks; in 2010, it was 27; 2009, 2008, and 2007 were 32, 34, and 32, respectively.

This year: Terrell Suggs, the team's reigning sack leader in each of the past 5 years except 2009, is out for at least half of the season. The Ravens also play a number of top QBs. But even top QBs get sacked sometimes -- especially Rothlisberger (40 last season), but even Tom Brady was sacked more times (32) than Joe Flacco (31). So the opposing QB quality shouldn't be a big factor. How about Suggs? It turns out that the team is remarkably consistent even without contribution from Sizzle: ignoring the outlier year in 2011, the team has posted in the low 30s/upper 20s every year for the past 5, even as Suggs has bounced from as low as 4.5 (2009) to as high as 14 (2011). It seems like the team fills in around Suggs's production -- which makes sense, because at some point you're going to need to hit the quarterback, regardless of who is actually doing it. In fact, with Suggs out, we might expect the team to blitz a little more than usual, since our secondary can probably handle things (at least for a short while) and we might need two or more pass rushers to make up for one Suggs. Plus, Sizzle could return in the later part of the season; if he does, expect a performance like Ed Reed's in 2010. When Suggs is used as a pass-rush specialist and doesn't play every down in coverage, he might be able to motor through to the quarterback more and contribute a handful of helpful sacks down the stretch. Add in a slight uptick from the coverage sacks that our secondary looks primed to generate, as we can tell in part by seeing last year's big improvement over 2010. Overall, we should expect numbers pretty much in line with previous years, which is why I pick 31.

... But no player has more than 8.0

The past: Remember that year when Suggs only had 5 sacks (2007)? Turns out he actually led the team with that number. Aside from Suggs, no player on the Ravens has had more than 6.5 sacks since 2007, even though the team minus Suggs has posted [34], 16, 27.5, 26, and 27 sacks in those years. Last year's runners-up were Pernell McPhee (6.0) and Paul Kruger (5.5).

This year: Those numbers show that the Ravens excel at pass rush by committee. That's part of what makes game planning difficult for opposing offenses -- you never know who will be coming in for the sack on the next play. We can expect McPhee and Kruger's numbers to increase as they see more playing time in Suggs's absence, but I think that part of the Ravens' strategy is to keep things unpredictable and avoid making any one person "the" pass rush guy (Suggs, of course, is that guy, but it seems like that's mostly just because he's great at breaking through linemen more than that he's always sent to put on pressure). Therefore, we'll probably see an uptick in our major pass rushers (especially McPhee), but with some cap as Harbaugh and Pees try to keep things varied.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams TD differential is +1

The past: In 2011, the team was -2 (-1 on kickoffs and -1 on returns), which was 31st in the league (Seattle was -3). In 2010, it was +1 (+1 kickoffs, 0 returns).

This year: Expect a return to form. Harbaugh is a special teams guy at heart, and when he gets embarrassed on ST like he did last year, he responds. Big free agent moves like acquiring Corey Graham will help lock down our return defense. After that, no matter who is returning kickoffs and punts -- David Reed, Lardarius Webb, or Jacoby Jones -- we've got the speed and explosiveness to break one or two out. The main thing will be limiting opponents' returns, which the Ravens are in prime position to do this year.

The opinions posted here are those of the administrator of this blog and his loyal readers. They are in no way official comments from the team, and should not be misconstued as such, even though he thinks he could do just as well or even a better job!

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