The Baltimore Ravens are the hottest team in the NFL and are considered the top favorite for winning the Super Bowl (Ravens vs. Titans, Sun 2.15am live on DAZN). On the way, head coach John Harbaugh turned his team over and started a real revolution.
The Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs three times in a row from 2015 to 2017 and bobbed to themselves. With Joe Flacco as quarterback and a rather old-fashioned style of play, they did not impress anyone and were considered to be discontinued. Even the head coach of John Harbaugh, who has been in office since 2008, gradually wobbled. Less than two years later, the Ravens are back and for the first time ever the top seed of the AFC. How did you do that?
Of course, they pulled quarterback Lamar Jackson, the designated MVP of the 2019 season, in the draft last year and replaced Flacco with the rookie later in the year. That alone provided a boost that took the team to a new level.
Jackson brought new dynamism into the game of the Ravens, who had probably never seen this before. But this transformation was not really complete. At the latest in the wildcard game against the Los Angeles Chargers, the limits were shown to the then shaky construction. With eight defensive backs in coverage, Jackson was just overwhelmed a year ago.
Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman recognized this and came to the right conclusions: After Flacco had moved to Denver, it was important to maximize Jackson’s strengths. As a result, Roman threw his playbook out of the window and started from scratch. Harbaugh himself bluntly called this a “revolution” of his own offense early in the offseason.
Baltimore Ravens: Run Game im Fokus
Trivially formulated, everything revolved around the run game and Lamar Jackson in an exposed position. The offense got a lot of option elements – read options, run pass options, sometimes even triple options. And lots of play fakes and misdirections. Harbaugh bravely announced an offense that the NFL had never seen before.
He should be right. The Ravens performed historically and ran as a team for 3,296 yards, surpassing the all-time record of the Patriots from 1978 (3165). But they were by no means limited to the run. Rather, they are the first team in the history of the NFL to play an average of 200 passing and 200 rushing yards per game over an entire season. This went hand in hand with a new season rushing yard record for quarterbacks: with his 1206 rushing yards, Jackson surpassed the old record of Michael Vick (1039) from 2006, probably the most dynamic QB in NFL history until 2019.
But the Ravens saw more than just mass statistics across the board in the NFL top. Also Footballoutsiders sees the Ravens ahead of everyone in terms of offensive efficiency, especially lately. Overall, they are certified 27.5 percent DVOA, but if you look at the weighted offense – roughly speaking, the start of the season is weighted less strongly than the most recent games – they are even at 31.8 percent.
Baltimore Ravens in the efficiency ranking
Even more remarkable though: With 47.4 percent DVOA, they even play the most efficient passing game, ahead of Kansas City and New Orleans with their superstar quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees. Of course, they are clearly in the lead in the running game (21.1 percent DVOA).
One reason for this is of course the 36 touchdown passes from Jackson, who even leads the league.
Baltimore Ravens: Defense almost as good as last year
However surprisingly dominant the offensive was, it is perhaps even more surprising that the defense (-12.7 percent DVOA, 3rd place) maintained its high efficiency of the previous year (-13.1 percent DVOA, 3rd place). In this area there was perhaps a much larger change in personnel.
Above all, the Ravens lost their top pass rusher Za’Darius Smith and veteran Terrell Suggs. Linebackers CJ Mosley and Safety Eric Weddle also left. Of course, they were adequately replaced, especially by Safety Earl Thomas and later in the season by the trade for cornerback Marcus Peters. But that it was essentially possible to almost repeat last year’s production after initial problems speaks volumes for the good work of defensive coordinator Don Martindale.
The bottom line is the best regular season in the history of the relatively young franchise.
A central point for this is also Harbaugh’s will to engage in modern approaches. He therefore deals intensively with in-game analytics and makes decisions using bare numbers. In practice, it looks like Harbaugh is in constant contact with football analyst Daniel Stern, who is sitting next to the OC in the cabin above and has a constant eye on “Down and Distance” to give him the best advice about what suggest the numbers for further action.
John Harbaugh incorporates analytics into decisions
Specifically, this is about decisions about when to play a fourth attempt and when to punch or kick better. In the same way, analytical data tell when a two-point conversion makes sense or could even be absolutely necessary. Whereby Harbaugh always emphasizes that he does not only go by the numbers, but always lets them flow into his decisions.
Two games to be highlighted in this context are the Ravens’ games against the Chiefs and Seahawks.
In the defeat against the Chiefs in week 3, the Ravens were behind after a 19:30 touchdown and, contrary to conventional practice, did not opt for an extra point, but for a two-point conversion. Why? “If you can reduce the gap to nine points, you give yourself a much better chance of winning than if you reach overtime. You also still have the chance of OT with another two-point conversion,” Harbaugh said at the time . The attempt failed in this case, which did not leave Harbaugh in doubt as to whether it would not have made more sense to take the extra point and ultimately play on overtime.
Ravens: Gatorade showers have to wait until Miami
In the 7th win over the Seahawks in turn, the Ravens faced a 3rd & 15 at Seattle-21 and Jackson ran an option keeper for 13 yards. The question now was: kick or play the fourth try? The decision was ultimately made to play it out and Jackson then scored an 8-yard touchdown.
A decision that ran like a thread through the season. Unsurprisingly, the Ravens clearly lead the league in 4th down success rate (70.83 percent). The bottom line is a point difference of Plus-249, the best in the NFL since 2007 (Patriots with Plus-315).
Harbaugh and Co. have truly succeeded in revolution. Both in terms of your own playing style and the way you make decisions, as well as when building your own team. In addition, it is questionable for the competition that the attitude in the team also fits.
Even in the ultimately unimportant sporting game in week 17 against the Steelers – the Ravens had already got the top seed of the AFC under wraps – they kept their feet on the accelerator. Even more: Peters, for whom the Ravens are the third team within the past three years, ended up stopping his teammate Jimmy Smith trying to give Harbaugh a Gatorade shower for the 14th win (franchise record). The reason: There is still time to Miami, the venue of Super Bowl LIV on February 2.