Are the 2014 Baltimore Ravens Better Than Their 2012 Super Bowl Team?
Remember the 2012 version of the Baltimore Ravens? They lost three of their last four games of the season, but still hung on to win the AFC North. They were basically an afterthought with the Broncos and Patriots taking the top seeds in the playoffs, until Joe Flacco stepped up with one of the best postseasons by a quarterback. The Ravens went into both Denver and Foxborough and won, punching their ticket to a Super Bowl where they went on to defeat the San Francisco 49ers.
Fast forward two years, and the Ravens aren’t flying under the radar as much, despite being a wild-card team. They didn’t win their division, but they're the last team standing from the AFC North after defeating the Steelers and watching the Colts down the Bengals. And they happen to be the fifth-best team in our power rankings.
So, just two years removed from a Super Bowl win, are these teams eerily similar? Not exactly -- this one's better.
Who Needs Ray Lewis?
The Ravens’ defense was just as key to their playoff run as Joe Flacco was in 2012. However, according to our Adjusted Defensive NEP in the chart below, the Ravens’ defense during the 2012 regular season wasn’t exactly one to be feared.
|Year||Adj. Def. NEP||Adj. Def. Pass NEP||Adj. Def. Rush NEP|
|2012||22.62 (14th)||24.30 (13th)||12.37 (22nd)|
|2014||6.59 (5th)||50.43 (18th)||-41.12 (4th)|
According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, the 2014 Ravens have a better defense than 2012's version. It’s not to say the Raven’s defense was bad -- they were slightly above average, playing 22.62 Adjusted Defensive NEP below expectation over the course of the season, or 1.41 points per game. The average defense in 2012, when adjusting for schedule, played 34.35 points below expectation (it's an offensive-driven league, after all) during the season, or an average of 2.15 points per game.
The team’s 2012 defensive strength -- pass defense -- is slightly below average this year compared to the rest of the league, largely due to losing Jimmy Smith after Week 7 when the Ravens had a top-10 pass defense. However, if Baltimore's defense comes up strong like it did in 2012 when the forced 10 turnovers in four games, they will be tough for any opponent to overcome.
Gary Kubiak has been with the Ravens for almost a year now, and around this time last year, our own JJ Zachariason pinpointed the fact that Kubiak had a real opportunity to change the Baltimore offense around. Based on what he did during his time spent as an offensive coordinator in Denver and as a head coach in Houston, the Ravens were hoping he would give this offense a new identity once Jim Caldwell departed for Detroit.
According to our Adjusted Offensive NEP numbers, which you can see in the table below, Kubiak did more than just give the Ravens a new offensive identity. He gave new life to the offense.
|Year||Adj. NEP per Play||Adj. Pass NEP per Play||Adj. Rush NEP per Play|
|2012||0.05 (16th)||0.05 (18th)||0.03 (12th)|
|2013||-0.05 (27th)||-0.05 (24th)||-0.12 (29th)|
|2014||0.10 (8th)||0.17 (8th)||0.01 (12th)|
The impact from just 2013 to 2014 was significant, as Kubiak helped turn around an offense that ranked in the bottom 10 in both main offensive categories. He tripled the offense’s efficiency, and the Ravens' finished as a top-10 one at season's end. In fact, with the hire of Gary Kubiak, John Harbaugh oversaw the best offense he’s had since he took over as head coach of the Ravens.
Justin Forsett's work -- he finished second in Rushing NEP in the NFL this season -- in Kubiak's zone blocking scheme proved to be a huge boost to the team's overall effectiveness, but, as it usually goes, the offense's true boost came from the quarterback.
2013 was the lowest of lows for Flacco. He ended the year with a -18.84 Passing NEP, and considering an average starter since 2000 has roughly a 42.00 Passing NEP total, this indicates that Flacco played roughly 60 points below expectation over the course of the 2013 season, costing the Ravens nearly four points per game.
The chart below shows Flacco's numbers through the years.
|Year||Passing NEP||Per Drop Back||Success Rate|
Flacco has been an average quarterback throughout his career –- an “ok” thing with the recent dominance of the Ravens’ defense. But 2013 saw Flacco finish as the 22nd-worst quarterback in the league according to our Passing NEP.
But 2014, as noted earlier this season, has been a turnaround year for Flacco. He set career highs in Passing NEP, Passing NEP per play and Success Rate, and finished 10th, 10th and 11th, respectively, in each category among quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs.
Flacco's playoff run was huge for the Ravens in 2012, but he's playing at a high level now, and we all need to recognize it.
Better Than the 2012 Team
So where does this leave the Ravens? They have a quarterback that's having a career year, and a defense that's analytically better than the one they had during their 2012 Super Bowl run. Gary Kubiak has the offense playing effectively, too -- again, this is the best offense John Harbaugh's ever coached.
Are they better than the 2012 team? Yes, they are. But our algorithms still place them as the third-best team in the AFC, currently with an 18.55% chance to take the conference's title. They can thank two pretty dominant teams -- Denver and New England -- for that.
Just don't count them out entirely.