Baltimore entered Week 7 rated fourth in offense and ninth in defense.
That was before the Atlanta Falcons were struck by the meteor that is the Ravens pass rush. Now, with Week 7 in the books, the Ravens defense has moved up to sixth in DVOA.
Why is DVOA better than traditional stats like yardage for measuring teams?
DVOA is an advanced statistic that involves many things but one of its key characteristics is adjustment for opponent.
Yardage, the metric often used by the masses to rank offenses and defenses, fails to do that.
Let me give an example. If one team played the Jacksonville Jaguars 16 times a year and another played the Denver Broncos 16 times a year, who do you think ends up with better yardage totals? Yet, that is essentially what we are doing by using yardage to rank teams: ignoring who the opponent is and how the teams played against them.
DVOA adjusts for opponents so if you do well in it, you are more likely to be a good team. DVOA also reflects red zone performance and scoring, two enormously important factors in winning games. Did the defense give up a touchdown or a field goal? That matters, too. If you let the opponent march 75 yards to kick a field goal, that is obviously preferred to letting them march 60 yards for a touchdown. Yardage doesn't capture important nuances like point differential.
A cynic will say that the Falcons, Panthers, and Bucs are bad teams, but Baltimore has crushed them handily, which is a big reason they are so highly rated. If we were scraping by in a 17-17 tie that would be different. A hallmark of a strong team is its ability to dominate inferior opponents. Baltimore could be much better certainly and will need to be in the next two weeks as it faces two very tough division games.
Ravens Offense broken down
Our passing attack is rated third and our rushing attack 17th. Folks, I hopefully don't need to remind you that this is a passing league and winning football games starts with competence in the pass game on both sides of the ball and there just isn't any disputing it.
Look at some of the teams who are doing well in rushing offense but not passing offense: Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings.
Most of those are terrible teams! The Titans? The Vikings? They're top 10 rushing offenses. Yet, they are bottom third in passing and their lousy records reflect it. They aren't going to scare anyone. Only Miami looks like a possible playoff contender and that is largely thanks to its third ranked defense.
Now look at the strong passing teams who possess mediocre or worse rushing attacks: San Diego, Baltimore, Denver, New England. Those are strong teams and their records reflect it, too. Obviously, it's ideal to be great at both (like Dallas), but if you have to choose one, passing efficiency correlates to wins better than rushing efficiency.
Ravens Defense broken down
Defensively, Baltimore's pass defense is seventh and its rushing defense is 10th. I suspect that might surprise people since we tend to remember those horrendous blown coverages. In reality, Baltimore has been quite good in pass defense, however, that is probably more a product of the pass rush and linebackers than the secondary. The front 7 is helping to cover up for some weaknesses in our safeties. This was on full display against Atlanta as the pass rush scarcely gave Atlanta a chance to hit any big plays downfield.
Other interesting takeaways around the NFL
As the DVOA ratings this week note, Denver is in the conversation as one of the best teams ever through Week 7.They are pretty obviously the class (so far) of the NFL. They've got two games left against San Diego, the Patriots, and the Bengals so we'll find out more about them but they are certainly the AFC leader. As the 2nd rated team by DVOA, Baltimore is closer to 9th than they are to Denver. The gap is sizeable.
Seattle, who everyone is questioning due to their 3-3 record, is still playing like the best team in that division. I expect that they will win that division again barring some truly unexpected circumstances. The problem Seattle is having revolves around the regression of its pass defense. They are still second in the NFL in rushing defense but 22nd in pass defense. At this time last year, they had 19 turnovers. Now, they have five. Their interceptions are way down as Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas both have zero. This more than anything is killing them. The Rams marched down for touchdowns drives almost too easily last week, especially Davis' great fourth quarter drive to put them up 28-19. Seattle has played the toughest slate of opponents in the NFL though. This, again, is why opponent adjustment matters. Seattle won't be playing Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers anymore in the regular season. Still, they aren't quite in 2013 form.
Indianapolis, who was way further down the ratings before, saw a huge jump by dominating Cincinnati. Indy's third down performance has fueled their play, allowing opponents to convert just 26% of third downs. That's a credit to them given that no one saw that defense being more than mediocre without Robert Mathis. However, it should be noted that third down performance is normally not a very consistent statistic. What that means is that teams who are really good on third down one year, rarely are the next year. It is hard to be consistently dominant on third down all the time.
The reason for that is because teams have fewer opportunities on third down than they do first or second. Thus, the sample size is smaller and more volatile. The Colts are on an amazing stretch of third down execution (the Bengals didn't convert a single one until the second half) but I would be at least somewhat surprised if that lasted all season. While Andrew Luck gets all the credit for what the Colts are doing, the defense is doing just as much.
Finally, our opponent next week, the Bengals, have a disturbing disparity in their pass and rushing defense. This was true several weeks ago actually but it hasn't gotten better. They are the worst run defense in the NFL. Their pass defense is keeping them in games. Even so, they are a dangerous team and will be a tough out at home. They might even be a little desperate, too.
The Ravens will need both their passing and running game to operate at a high level to win on Sunday but it would seem they can capitalize in the ground game against them.