Much has been made about the injuries this season and with 20 players on injured reserve at the end of it, there is more than enough merit to it. However, I contend that the lack of playmakers and splash plays were really what caused the Ravens to finish 5-11 instead of the strong playoff run expected.
The 2014 NFL season saw the Ravens lose an unprecedented number of defensive backs. Yet, the defense was able to save itself mostly due to the splash plays made along the way. A final turnover differential of +2 was the difference maker as the Ravens turned the ball over 20 times, but saw 22 takeaways in return. Looking at 2015, the Ravens lost the ball 28 times while only getting it back 14, for a turnover differential of -14. That mark is tied for 30th in the league, and it should come as no surprise that the two either tied or worse have draft selections have a higher draft pick than the Ravens. Arguably the two other worst teams in the league in the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans, they select fourth and first respectively.
If you look at the bottom of the turnover differential list, you'll see some of the most disappointing teams in the league this season. Teams like the Cleveland Browns (-9), Jacksonville Jaguars (-10), Indianapolis Colts, Phildalphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers (-5), and so many others. Meanwhile, at the top of the list is where you get the playoff teams and Super Bowl favorites in the Carolina Panthers (+20), Arizona Cardinals (+9), and New England Patriots (+7).
The lack of a pass rush this season certainly helped put the Ravens where they are. Having quarterback get hit tends to cause them to lose the ball through a fumble or throw a bad pass, leading to an interception. The lack of pressure this season allowed a much better set of quarterbacks to pick apart the Ravens secondary with ease and ultimately rarely put the defenders in position to take the ball away. Health will fix that if linebacker Terrell Suggs is able to come back from his Achilles tendon tear, but it wouldn't be terribly surprising if he decided to call it a career.
The defensive backs had a few moments where they got their hands on the ball, but could rarely pull it down. It was something I saw in training camp and more importantly, something defensive coordinator Dean Pees was getting on his players for not doing.
Hill got yelled at by DC Dean Pees for not catching one of the three pass breakups— MatthewStevens (@MatthewS_balt) August 5, 2015
We saw what a better turnover differential can do to a team even with all the injuries in week 16 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. No one expected the Ravens to win, but on the backs of a 3 turnover game for the defense and backup quarterback Ryan Mallett playing a clean football game, the Ravens were able to get their sweep of their division rival. A majority of this team's games came within 8 points, something as simple as securing a turnover or keeping one off the boards could have seen the Ravens take or keep the lead. A few more turnovers could have easily been the difference between 5-11 and 10-6.
If the Ravens want to return to glory, it will be a two step process to get there. They need to stop turning the ball over so much, with the quarterbacks throwing 21 interceptions by themselves. On defense, they need to have more playmakers, guys that can come down with the ball. Some of that could come from a dominant pass rush, but it's clear that the defensive backs need a young buck back there that can do just that. Missing is the Ed Reed of the group, giving the Ravens good field position.
If they can get playmakers through the draft, free agency, or even just guys already on the roster learning how to catch; this is a team that can be great almost immediately.