The 2016 Baltimore Ravens defense completed a dramatic turnaround in the interceptions category. After posting a league worst six interceptions in 2015, the Ravens tied for the NFL team lead with 18 picks last season. Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley led the way, snaring four interceptions apiece; followed by Zack Orr with three, then Tavon Young and Jerraud Powers with two. Lardarius Webb, Timmy Jernigan and Will Davis each secured one interception last year.
While there is definitely some inherent randomness in takeaway totals, upgrading the personnel with Weddle, Orr and Young last season played a large role in the Ravens rebound. Ordinarily, a regression to the mean would be expected, especially since the team lost Orr and Powers to retirement. However, Baltimore’s front office focused their offseason on bolstering the pass defense.
Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey were added to the secondary. Tyus Bowser and Timmy Williams were also drafted to pressure quarterbacks off the edge. With these five talented pass defenders added to the returning defensive personnel, coordinator Dean Pees has ample talent at his disposal to force quarterbacks into mistakes by utilizing aggressive coverages and blitz packages. With this in mind, it is reasonable to predict the Ravens defense will once again lead the NFL in the interception category, and improve upon their 2016 total.
The venerable 2006 Ravens defense posted a whopping 26 regular season interceptions. Without an elite ballhawk such as Ed Reed, the 2017 Ravens are unlikely to match that lofty total. But 21 picks, a slight uptick from 2016, it quite feasible. Predicting the distribution:
Eric Weddle - 4
Tavon Young - 4
C.J. Mosley - 3
Marlon Humphrey - 2
Tony Jefferson - 2
Jimmy Smith - 2
Tyus Bowser - 2
Brandon Carr - 1
Lardarius Webb - 1
Red zone efficiency, time of possession, third down conversion percentage and run/pass ratio are all strong indicators of winning football. Yet takeaways have an even stronger correlation to victory. Interceptions dramatically impact momentum, can cause as much as a 14-point swing on the scoreboard and allow defenses to shut down comeback attempts.
In fact, through 23 postseason contests in Ravens franchise history, the Ravens have failed to win any of the six games in which they lost the turnover battle. On the flip side, the team has won 14 of the 16 playoff games when they won the turnover battle. The direct influence of interceptions on determining who wins the game cannot be understated.
A potentially dominant pass defense is the single greatest cause for optimism about the 2017 Ravens.