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Opinion: Turnover differential will make or break the Ravens this season

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

What was the driving force behind the Baltimore Ravens three win improvement from 2015 to 2016? The defense literally doubled their takeaways, from 14 the previous season to 28 last year. In order to take the next step, and reach the postseason in 2017, the offense must now cut down on their giveaways.

Run/pass ratios, red zone efficiency and third down conversion percentages are all important statistics. But not nearly as crucial as turnover differentials. Winning in this passing centric league is all about making explosive plays. And no play is more explosive, or does more to change the momentum of a game, than a timely turnover.

Nearly every season in Ravens franchise history proves this point. The 1996 Ravens won five games with the 27th best turnover differential in the NFL. The 2000 Ravens won the Super Bowl with the best turnover differential in the league. The 2006 Ravens won 13 regular season games with the best turnover differential that season. The 2007 Ravens won five games with the worst turnover differential in the NFL.

The Ravens average turnover differential ranking during head coach John Harbaugh’s first five years, seasons in which the Ravens won at least one playoff game each year, was 7th. The club’s average ranking in takeaways compared to giveaways in the four years since is 19th.

This phenomenon is not limited to the Ravens. The four most recent Super Bowl champions have posted the 3rd, 20th, 3rd and best regular season turnover differentials in the league, respectively. These are only regular season numbers, they do not reflect postseason turnover stats. The playoff differentials provide an even stronger correlation between winning and losing. The outlier with the 20th best mark was the 2015 Denver Broncos, who produced a respectable +4 turnover differential in their three playoff games.

Headed into the 2017 season, the Ravens defense is poised to improve upon their league leading 18 interceptions and 9th best ten fumbles recovered last season. The roster does not contain an elite ballhawk in the Ed Reed mold, but the depth chart is stacked with impact defenders at every level.

Baltimore’s pass rush boasts an exciting blend of space eaters, gap shooters, veteran power rushers and quick twitch rookies. While depth in the secondary has been dealt some costly injuries, the remaining corners are big and fast while the safety pairing should be outstanding.

The offense provides plenty of room for improvement, specifically with interceptions. Franchise quarterback Joe Flacco has tossed 117 regular season interceptions during his nine season career. He averaged just over 11 interceptions per season before his miraculous Super Bowl MVP run. In the four season since, he has been picked off 22, 12, 12 (in ten games) and 15 times, chronologically.

An uptick to roughly 39 passing attempts per game certainly plays a part in these recent bloated totals. Nevertheless, when Flacco returns from his back injury, he definitely needs to make better decisions with the ball.

The Ravens have suffered an inordinate amount of injuries thus far in training camp, but they still maintain the requisite talent and depth to contend this year. No matter which players are on the field at any given time, offensive playcalling that takes some shots downfield while emphasizing ball protection, combined with the best special teams units in the NFL, and an aggressive, opportunistic defensive scheme will propel Baltimore back into the postseason. The key for 2017 Ravens will undoubtedly be their turnover differential.