After three regular season games, the Baltimore Ravens are one of five NFL franchises with an unblemished record. The team’s dramatic improvement in corralling interceptions has provided the Ravens with the necessary winning edge.
In a tough road contest against a desperate team in Jacksonville on Sunday, the Ravens defense turned Blake Bortles over three times. With the Jaguars driving towards midfield in the first quarter, C.J. Mosley make a spectacular play to tip a pass up in the air and pick it with one hand. The Ravens offense converted this turnover into a field goal to claim a 10-0 lead. Then in the fourth quarter, with the Ravens trailing and having just thrown an interception to put the Jags near field goal range, Tavon Young intercepted a pass that was tipped at the line. And finally, with the Ravens clinging to a two-point lead with less than a minute left in the game, Zach Orr secured another tipped ball to seal the victory.
This three interception performance comes after the Ravens secured a pair of picks against the Browns last week. In Cleveland, Eric Weddle intercepted an errant throw to allow the Ravens to trim the deficit before halftime, and C.J. Mosley closed out the game with a pick on the goal line with less than a minute to play.
Through three games this season, the Ravens defense has provided five interceptions, tied for second most in the league. Throughout the entirety of the 2015 season, a 16-game regular season slate, the Ravens managed a total of six interceptions, the worst total in the league. It has been a monumental turnaround.
Maligned defensive coordinator Dean Pees deserves some credit here. The coaching staff concentrated on generating more turnovers throughout the offseason, and so far, this focus has produced great results. The Ravens front office also played a part in fixing the turnover problem. Pairing C.J. Mosley with Zach Orr, an inside linebacker who brings speed and coverage ability to the field, along with savvy safety Eric Weddle, has unlocked the defense’s potential. Mosley is now free to follow his instincts, and is playing at an All-Pro level.
Several season removed from the golden age, it is only natural to romanticize the dominance of previous Ravens defenses. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and company turned in more than a few dominant, shutdown defensive performances over the years. However, in truth, even the top Ravens defenses frequently relied on late interceptions to win games against lesser competition.
Winning back-to-back road games in the NFL is a challenge, regardless of the opponents’ records. Without the ability to come down with interceptions, it is nearly impossible to consistently stop driving offenses in today’s NFL because the rules that greatly favor offenses. The Ravens could have easily lost both games against the Browns and Jaguars, if they did not squeeze these timely picks. Instead, the team has found the winning formula, and is perched atop the division with a 3-0 record.
The 2016 team is finally looking like the Baltimore Ravens again. Opponents beware...