It should come as no surprise that the Ravens lost 9 of 10 games when they lost the turnover battle in the 2015 regular season. The Ravens most impressive victory, a 20-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16, was aided by a plus 3 turnover differential in that game. Overall the Ravens tied for the 2nd worst turnover ratio in the league with a negative 14 differential, highlighted by a league worst 6 forced interceptions while throwing 21 interceptions, the third most.
The playoffs show the correlation between turnovers and winning even more clearly. In the wild card round, both of the teams who won the turnover battle advanced. In the division round, three of the four winners in turnover differential also won the game. This trend continued deeper into the playoffs, as both of the conference championship games and the Super Bowl were won by the team who won the turnover battle. In the playoffs this season, 88% of the teams who had more takeaways than giveaways won. The Ravens own playoff history is another example that shows the importance of turnovers. The 2000-01 World Champion Baltimore Ravens boasted a plus 10 turnover differential during their playoff run and the 2012-13 Championship Ravens earned a plus 6 turnover differential. Neither of the two Ravens championship teams lost the turnover battle in any of their 8 combined playoff games.
Simply put, turnovers determine the outcome of most games. Usually in the regular season and definitely in the postseason. Turnovers matter more than time of possession, more than winning the line of scrimmage and more than special teams. Championship caliber teams have quarterbacks that protect the ball and defenses who create turnovers.
Looking toward to the 2016 offseason, improving the turnover situation should be a two pronged approach. The Ravens clearly need to add playmakers to their roster in order to improve their turnover differential, and they also need to adjust their coaching strategies The Ravens offense could use a big receiver who can create separation and limit interceptions, hopefully Breshard Perriman can return from injury to fill this need. On defense, the Ravens already have some players who create turnovers. Jimmy Smith and Elvis Dumervil have proven to be playmakers when the defensive scheme plays to their strengths. Timmy Jernigan and Will Hill have also shown flashes of disruption that can lead to fumbles when aggressive playcalling is utilized. Terrell Suggs will be returning from his second Achilles tear so some loss of explosion should be expected and reduce his pass rushing productivity, but he still has the uncanny ability to sniff out screen passes for interceptions.
On the defensive front, the Ravens pass rush would benefit from another penetrating defensive end to bookend Jernigan, an inside linebacker with better pass coverage skills and another outside linebacker that will allow both of aging outside linebackers to stay fresh, maximizing their pass rushing potential. In the secondary, the Ravens should supplement their roster with a rangy, ballhawking free safety and another cornerback who excels in press man coverage.
It would be helpful for Ravens coaching staff to focus their weekly gameplans on creating more turnovers. That means changing their passive defense philosophy. In order to make a deep playoff run in 2016, the Ravens defense needs attack quarterbacks, forcing them into mistakes, while also covering tighter so they are in better position to intercept errant throws. If the Ravens defense can create more turnovers, they will put their offense in better position to score on short fields. A more aggressive defense would help the offense because Flacco and Trestman would have enough confidence in the defense to be careful with the ball, especially when playing with a lead.
It is certainly a tall order to add so many impactful pieces to the team in one offseason. But if the Ravens focus the vast majority of their draft resources this offseason on building a top defense, it is feasible to fill enough of the defensive needs to see immediate improvement when combined with more aggressive coaching. A two pronged approach to improving the defensive talent and scheme would enable the Ravens to ride a strong turnover differential through another thrilling Super Bowl run next season