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Ravens Defense: It's All About the Sacks

BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 24:  Jameel McClain #53 and Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens sack Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 24, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 24: Jameel McClain #53 and Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens sack Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 24, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
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The Baltimore Ravens finished the 2010 regular season with a 12-4 record, good enough for the playoffs, but once again, not good enough for a AFC North division title nor a home playoff game. The team had a great season, but just couldn't seem to win the big games, much less the ones to get the to the Big Game. Fast forward to 2011, and not only are the Ravens headed towards the playoffs with an 8-3 record, but the AFC North title and a home playoff game is firmly in their own hands.

So what's the biggest difference between the 2010 team and this year's version? Let's take a look at some of the stats to see the comparison, but first we'll show the similarities, which makes the one huge difference so much more visible.

Offensively, despite throwing the ball so much more in 2011 than last year (46 more attempts after 11 games), QB Joe Flacco actually has one less completion than he did last year at this point, which explains the difference in his completion percentage between 2010 (63%) and 2011 (56%). His passing yardage is virtually the same (2010: 2,722 vs. 2011: 2,737), his interceptions exactly the same (8 at this point both seasons), yet his passing TD's is a ways behind last year's pace (2010: 18 vs. 2011: 13).

Regardless, the difference between 2010 and 2011 is not in Flacco's stats, although if he was closer to his 2010 completion percentage, that could mean up to 20+ more completions, which could very well might have made a difference in at least two of the three disappointing losses this year.

Before we look at the defense, let's not forget about the Special Teams and specifically our field goal kicker, Billy Cundiff. In 2010 at this point of the season, Cundiff made 18 field goals in 20 attempts from all over the field. In 2011, while he has attempted and made more field goals this season, he is 25 of 31, but only one for six beyond 50 yards.

Between the offense and Special Teams, the scoring average between the two seasons has'nt changed much, from 22.7 in 2010 to 4.7 in 2011.

Moving on to take a look at the defensive side of the ball, there are a bunch of similarities between the 2010 and 2011 defensive Ravens. The defense is giving up basically the same number of points per game in 2011 (17.0 ppg) than they did in 2010 (16.5 ppg). Despite Ed Reed missing the first six games of 2010 and coming back to lead the league with ten interceptions, the Ravens as a team only had 10 picks at this point last year vs. 12 so far in 2011, not a big difference.

So then what does that leave, and by now, especially after seeing the title of this story, you already know. After eleven games in 2010, the Ravens pass rush had netted a paltry sum of 18 sacks on their way to a miserable total of 27 for the entire 2010 season, tied for 27th in the league.

After only eleven games in 2011, the Ravens have easily surpassed last year's total and lead the entire NFL with 38 sacks, including a franchise record-tying nine sacks in their 16-6 Thanksgiving night win over the San Francisco 49ers. Their 2011 current total would have put them 12th overall for all of 2010, and close to the season leader, Pittsburgh Steelers, who finished 2010 with the most sacks at 48.

The Ravens are sure to break that total as they add to their sack total with five games remaining in the 2011 regular season. One thing is for sure, the pass rush and sack total is making the jobs of their secondary a lot easier and it is evidenced by the obvious improved play of their cornerbacks, which now appears to be filled with depth at the position where only a year ago, was thought to be one of their weaker links.

Led by Terrell Suggs' nine sacks, which is good enough to be tied for 7th in the league, it's interesting how the next best sack total on the team is Haloti Ngata's five sacks, tying him for 37th in the NFL. The total of 38 sacks is made up by fourteen players who have received credit for a sack in 2011, an amazing team statistic for the unit.

Look all around the team, you'll see guys who are focused on one goal. They have played here for years or may just be on the Ravens for the first time this season. Any way you look at it, this team is a Super Bowl contender. The one huge, glaring difference that sets the 2011 team apart, is the alarming sack total from the defensive pass rush. Alarming, that is, for the Baltimore Ravens opponents.