Is Baltimore's Defense Better in 2013?

After winning the Super Bowl and losing countless starters, is this year's Baltimore defense better than 2012's?

What do people love most about sports? It’s a simple question that you would assume has a simple answer. That is, until you actually attempt to put into words what, in fact, you love most about sports.

For some, the answer is passion. They grew up watching a game, and it’s something they can’t imagine not having in their life.

For others, it's a chance to relive the glory days of their athletically competitive past.

For me though, the answer is more complex. The answer, in my overly-analytical mind, is the debate. It’s all about the argument. And it's the basis of these debates that makes sports great.

Everyone has a differing opinion, and those opinions can be easily argued for or against. There's so much information out there, and we all have access to the games. This access to information is no different for me than it is a "expert." Steve Young and myself are seeing the exact same game. Sports are played in a vacuum, and it’s a vacuum that everyone sees, and therefore, everyone rightfully has an opinion to. This omniscient view of sports is what makes it so different and separates it from things we experience as a society.

Because of this belief I have - one where everyone has and deserves an opinion - I honestly took offense when Ray Lewis, on Monday Night Football in front of a national audience, alluded to the fact it would be nearly impossible for the Ravens defense to be as good as it was in 2012 because last year they won the championship. Ray Lewis can say these things because he is Ray Lewis, one of the most decorated defensive players to ever play football. His opinion is clearly respected and rightfully so. Some would say that whatever Ray says about defense should be taken as a gold standard because of all of his experience and knowledge.

Well, I’m over that. Ray Lewis was wrong. And I’ll show you why.

New Faces on Defense

“You just simply can’t replace the experience and leadership of an Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.”

That type of statement was made over and over again in the offseason regarding the 2013 Ravens. The irony, however, was that the biggest losses on the defensive side didn’t even involve Reed or Lewis - it was Paul Kruger who went on to sign a large contract with the Cleveland Browns, and Dannell Elerbe, Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams moving elsewhere as well.

Ozzie Newsome, one of the most respected general managers in all of sports, turned to Elvis Dumervil after the massive turnover. He added one of the more feared pass rushing outside linebackers in the game to team up with Terrell Suggs. Ozzie went on to add underrated linebacker Daryl Smith, who currently leads the team in tackles, and drafted safety Matt Elam with their top draft pick. This Ravens defense wasn’t going to boast the star power of its past squad, but it was going to be significantly younger and more athletic, a goal that every team is looking to achieve in the offseason.

What the Raw Statistics Say

There are many ways to break down defensive prowess. Here at numberFire, we use a lot of advanced metrics. But before I get into that, let's take a look at how the 2012 Ravens' defense compares to the 2013 version, using traditional statistics.

Points Allowed/Game21.512th19.87th
Yards Allowed/Game35117th3349th
Passing Yards Allowed/Game22817th23213th
Passing TD Allowed/Game.942nd1.5714th
Rushing Yards Allowed/Game12320th1027th
Rushing TD Allowed/Game.9423rd.291st

The Baltimore Ravens defense, from one season to the other, has improved their league rank in defensive points per game, yards per game, passing yards per game, rushing yards per game, and rushing touchdowns per game. The only area in which the 2013 squad is more deficient in, with regards to traditional statistics, is allowing passing touchdowns, where they have gone from second in the league in 2012 to a decent 13th ranking in 2013.

Moreover, in 2012, the Ravens forced 25 turnovers, ranking 14th in the league. In 2013, the team has forced 20 turnovers in 14 games, good for 19th in the league. Despite the extremely minor lull in turnovers, almost every single old school statistic shows that the Ravens are a better overall defense. But that's right - Ray Lewis says otherwise.

What the Advanced Metrics Say

And now the fun begins. Here at numberfire. we use Defensive Net Expected Points to help us determine how well a defense has performed. The numbers can be and are adjusted for strength of schedule, broken down into Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP (Adj. DPNEP) and Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP (Adj. DRNEP). Let’s take a look at the 2012 and 2013 numbers on a per play basis.

Adj. DNEP/P.0213th-.018th
Adj. DPNEP/P.0413th.0515th
Adj. DRNEP/P.0322nd-.075th

These are defensive metrics, so the lower - the more negative - the better. The Ravens have improved in total Defensive NEP per Play, and have greatly improved at stopping the run. The improvement in rush defense greatly overweighs the decline in passing defense, and that shows in the overall DNEP/P numbers.

The Ravens are one of only eight teams that boast a negative total Defensive Net Expected Points per Play number, and as referenced earlier, negative numbers are a good thing when looking at these defenses. But again, Ray thinks that last year's defense is better.

In the end, regardless if the Ravens win the ring or not, they are currently fielding a better defense now in comparison to the 2012 version. They are better even if Ray Lewis wants to go on to national television, make a completely loaded statement, and not back it up with any sort of analysis at all.