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GOT NUMBERS? Analyzing the Baltimore Ravens vs. the Cleveland Browns

Another new regular feature here at Dawgs by Nature will take a look at some of Football Outsiders' useful "innovative stats" and see how we match-up against our opponent of the week.

This week's opponent?  The evil purple team from Maryland: The Baltimore Ravens.  It is still widely assumed that the Ravens defense is dominant and scary, largely because Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are still cheating and killing people making most of the tackles and interceptions in Baltimore.  And that the offense is led by aging WRs, a "hard-nose running game" (as opposed to the unpopular "soft-nose" running game), and an inexperienced QB.  But do the facts and numbers match up with what we think we know, or what some ESPN guy told us?  Let's find out.

A quick note about the stats I'm going to use in this regular column.  The full explanation can be found here.  Basically, Football Outsiders uses the data from every play and finds the league average (adjusting for yards gained in the redzone, touchdowns scored, and the down and distance- so a 3 yard TD run on 3rd-and-1 from the 3 means a lot more than a 3 yard run on 3rd-and-15 from your own 20.)  Then it rates players and teams based on their relation to this league average.  The result is meaningful rate stats.  They are akin to league adjusted stats in baseball, like OPS+ and ERA+.  DVOA is the most common stat they use and 0.0 is exactly league average.  A 10.0% DVOA for a QB means a QB that is 10.0% better than average. -15.0% DVOA means 15% below average for a QB.  For defensive numbers they are reversed, so negative numbers are better.

Got all that?  No?  Well, then trust me when I say, higher positive numbers are good for offensive players and lower or negative numbers are good for defenses.  0.0% is always average. 

Now to the Ravens' Defense.  Overall, the defense has a -5.7% DVOA, meaning they are 5-6% better than average.  That number is good for 10th in the league.  Solid, no doubt.  But not scary. They are very average against the pass (2.2% DVOA, 12th in the league) and better against the run (-14.8%, 9th in the league).  Specifically, they struggle with passes to the number 1 WR on the other team (12.6% DVOA, 26th in the league) and passes to the RB (15.6%, 24th in the league). Problem is, we don't really have a #1 WR and our RBs don't catch a lot of passes.  Our best bet is probably getting the ball in the hands of Jerome Harrison through some screens and dump-offs.  Harrison has a solid 75% catch rate (catching 18 of 24 targets) and while he has only turned those targets into 111 yards, we know that he has the speed to break one at any time.

How bout the offense of the fightin' Satans Modells?  Well, they are really freaking efficient.  Even after a bad game against the Bengals, they rank 6th in Offensive efficiency with a 21.2% DVOA.  They are 11th in passing efficiency, but the 3 headed monster at RB of Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le'Ron McClain are thrashing defenses.  They rank 3rd in rushing efficiency.  In fact, Ray Rice is the best back in the league this year on a per play basis (29.1% DVOA) thanks, in part to 5 TDs and a cool 5.3 YPC.  This could spell doom for our defense.  As much as I have liked what I have seen from Rob Ryan's unit, they really have struggled. (Overall we are 29th in defensive efficiency with a DVOA of 18.2%).  Especially against the run, where we are 30th in adjusted-DVOA 15.0%.  Now that we are down two of our best tacklers and the center of our defense in Eric Barton and D'Qwell Jackson, things could really get ugly.  So look for the Ravens to run the ball down our throats.  That said, they were equally as successful through the air and actually passed more in our first match-up. 

As you could have probably guessed, if we have any shot in this game, it is because of our special teams.  We are first overall in Special Teams (with a 10.9 DVOA).  Each of our special teams units are above average, but it is our punt returns that have separated us from the league this year with a league-leading 12.8 DVOA.  This matches up well with Baltimore.  Their average Special Teams unit is particularly bad at punting/punt coverage (-4.4% DVOA).  Their best ST unit is the kick off coverage.  So if you are looking for a big Joshua Cribbs return, you better hope we can force some punts.

Of course, this all doesn't look very good.  By the numbers, the Ravens are a little better than I thought.  On the other hand, they are unsurprisingly number 1 on the spectrum of evil.  Maybe the forces of good, with a little help by Josh Cribbs and the Special teams can shock the world.

Hope you enjoyed my first official post.