Despite having a 6-3 record and occupying first place in the AFC North, the 2021 season has been an imperfect one for the Baltimore Ravens. For their many strengths, the team is not without their flaws, many of which have been magnified in recent games.
Week 10’s 12-point loss to the Dolphins was one of the Ravens’ worst offensive performances in recent memory. However, there’s some cause for concern on the defensive side of the ball, too. Their knack for giving up big plays is an established problem, but flying under the radar also is their lack of forcing turnovers this season.
In 2019, the Ravens’ turnover differential of +10 ranked just outside the Top-5 of all teams in the NFL. They forced 12 fumbles and hauled in 13 interceptions. These numbers regressed slightly in 2020, but they still forced over 20 turnovers and ranked No. 10 in turnover differential.
Through nine games, the 2021 season has been a much different story. The Ravens currently have a negative turnover differential through nine games (-5), which is tied for the fifth-worst mark in the league. Only the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets have a worse differential mark.
Baltimore has just five interceptions and two forced fumbles on the year, compared to the 12 times they’ve given the ball away. The Ravens’ defense caught an interception in Week 1 and forced two turnovers against the Chiefs in Week 2. Odafe Oweh’s forced fumble in Week 2 was a highlight moment that swung a victory in Baltimore’s favor.
Since then, their takeaway pace has slowed down significantly. They forced no turnovers in Week 3 or Week 4. In Week 5 and Week 6, a forced fumble and interception resulted in no points because the Ravens’ offense punted on the following possession. In their first two games out of the bye week against the Vikings and Dolphins, the Ravens again have forced no turnovers. Unsurprisingly, they’ve lost the turnover battle in both games.
In a game like this past Thursday night, where the Ravens’ offense was flat for nearly the entirety of four quarters, a forced turnover or two could have swung the trajectory of the game. And it did — just for the Dolphins, not the Ravens. Miami’s forced fumble in the second half resulted a 49-yard scoop-and-score touchdown return that broke a 6-3 stalemate and gave the Dolphins a two-score lead.
Week 10 served as a microcosm for the Ravens’ takeaway struggles on the season. They had multiple chances to flip possession and just failed to capitalize. Whether it was Josh Bynes and Anthony Averett dropping interceptions or Patrick Queen not falling on the ball after poking it loose, the Ravens’ defense just refused to force a takeaway.
The absence of Marcus Peters has definitely changed the dynamic of the defense. Not having maybe the league’s best ball-hawking talent has removed at least a few interceptions away from the equation. Peters’ presence also opens up turnover opportunities for other players, so his absence has been felt in that respect, too.
Without Peters, it’s becoming glaringly evident that the Ravens just don’t have many playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
Queen has only one takeaway thus far after having three in 2020. Bynes has had a few opportunities for turnovers over the past several weeks and has come up short. Same goes for Justin Houston and a few others.
Humphrey (one interception, one forced fumble), Anthony Averett (two interceptions) and Odafe Oweh (two forced fumbles) are the only defensive players with multiple takeaways. Humphrey, though, led in the NFL in forced fumbles last season and has not been the same disruptive presence in 2021.
To make matters worse, DeShon Elliott is now out for the remainder of the year. Elliott is a turnover-forcing machine but his hard-hitting style can very well lead its way to forced fumbles. He also caught his first career interception earlier this season in Week 6.
As the Ravens now shift focus to the second half of the season, forcing turnovers at a higher rate will be crucial down the home stretch. They’ve had a knack for takeaways in the past and could be due for some positive regression.
If “Wink” Martindale’s defense begins to force takeaways with greater frequency, it could help the Ravens find more success and consistency on both sides of the ball. The defense will be on the field less and the offense will have more bites at the apple to score points.