Ravens have taken holiday spirit too literally in 2015

December 23, 2015 | Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s better to give than to receive, right?

Perhaps the Ravens have taken the spirit of the holiday season too literally in 2015 as they enter Sunday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers holding the second-worst turnover ratio in the NFL at minus-15. It’s a major reason why Baltimore has long been out of the playoff race and needs one win in the final two weeks of the season just to avoid tying the worst record in franchise history.

“You don’t win football games when you turn the ball over,” head coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday’s loss to Kansas City in which his team committed three turnovers. “If any team this year should understand that, it’s the Baltimore Ravens. Until we learn that lesson, we can play as hard as we want, we can be as physical as we want, we can be as tough as we want, we can play some pretty darn good football. But if you turn the ball over, you’re not going to win.”

The Ravens have committed 26 turnovers, the second-highest total of the Harbaugh era with only their 2013 total (29) being higher. It’s no coincidence that those are the Ravens’ only non-playoff seasons under their eighth-year coach.

But the inability to create turnovers from the opposition has been a much greater problem for the Ravens in 2015. With just 11 takeaways in 14 games, they’re on pace to shatter the franchise-worst mark of 22 set in 1996 and matched last season.

The current Ravens can only dream of forcing 49 turnovers like the 2000 team that won Super Bowl XXXV or the 2006 squad that forced 40 on the way to the best regular-season mark (13-3) in franchise history. The Baltimore defense of old feels light years away as its old rival comes to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

“To be able to play like [that], you’ve got to get the lead,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “We just shoot ourselves in the foot when we don’t get [the lead] early. It’s always harder to play behind versus with the lead. I think that’s a valuable lesson we’re all learning this year.”

Though the Ravens have held a lead in 10 of their 14 games this season, those advantages have often been brief as they’ve led at the conclusion of just 14 of 58 quarters of play (counting two overtime periods) all season. The game-winning points in all four of their victories have come on the final play of the game.

We know that the Ravens lack dynamic, game-changing talent on the defensive side of the ball, but it isn’t easy to set the tempo and attack opposing offenses when they’re always on their heels and taking the punches.

“It’s being in the right place consistently, creating a little momentum [and] probably creating pressure on quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said. “Getting the lead has a lot to do with turnovers, especially interceptions. I think you’ll find – if you look at the analytics – that when you have the lead and you force quarterbacks to be a little more desperate in some of their decision-making, they’ll throw you the ball quite a bit more. We have been behind most of the season, so I think that factors into it.”

Yanda in exclusive company

After being named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl on Tuesday, right guard Marshal Yanda became the sixth Ravens player in franchise history to be named to at least five Pro Bowls, joining Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata.

Having played with all five of those individuals in his nine-year career, Yanda realizes he’s entered special company as he quietly carves out his place as one of the best players in Ravens history.

“It’s awesome. It’s a great honor, obviously, to be mentioned with those guys,” Yanda said. “Those guys are Hall of Famers, and it’s just awesome, and I feel fortunate to be able to stay healthy at the right time and be able to play on a good team, good organization.

“I understand a lot of that stuff sometimes has to help, too, [with Pro Bowl selections]. Obviously, you see that other teams are having a really good year [and] more guys get voted in. When you’re having a tough year, less guys get voted in.”

The Ravens have made the playoffs in six of Yanda’s nine seasons.

New England reunion

The Ravens are trying to get quarterback Ryan Mallett up to speed with their offense as quickly as possible, but one of his new teammates was already familiar with him.

Before spending the last two seasons with the Houston Texans, Mallett spent three years backing up Tom Brady in New England where he practiced with a current Ravens wide receiver on the scout team.

“I know Mallett pretty well,” said Kamar Aiken, who spent time with the Patriots in 2012 and 2013. “I’ve been catching balls with him when I was in New England, so I’m pretty comfortable with him and everybody else. He’s a really talented guy. He has to get the offense.”