OWINGS MILLS – It’s no secret why the Baltimore Ravens aren’t undefeated even though their defense has transformed the end zone into a no-crossing zone.
Heading into today’s home opener at M&T Bank Stadium against the winless Cleveland Browns (0-2), the Ravens (1-1) are the worst team in the NFL as far as turnover margin.
With five interceptions and two lost fumbles on offense and only one fumble recovery and no interceptions defensively, the Ravens are a flawed operation.
No player has had more issues with turnovers than quarterback Joe Flacco, the NFL leader in interceptions with five and the last-ranked passer in the league with a 41.2 rating.
“We’ve just got to get better at everything,” said Flacco, who threw a career-high four interceptions a week ago in a 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. “I’ve got to get better at mainly everything and just being compact. Listen, it was one bad game.
“In the long run, that one loss isn’t going to matter too much. We expect to have a lot of wins and go out there and play well a lot of times. Nobody likes it, I don’t like it. The team doesn’t like it, but you’ve got to get over it. And if you don’t get over it, then it’ll kill you for the rest of the year.”
The Browns might not be the truest indicator of whether the Ravens have fixed the problem.
The Ravens have won four consecutive games against the Browns, sweeping the season series against their AFC North counterpart for the past two years.
Last year, the Ravens outscored the Browns by a combined 52-3 margin.
And Flacco has traditionally thrived against Cleveland with a 95.9 passer rating, his highest against any AFC North team. He has completed 68 of 101 passes for 874 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
This year, though, it’s been a different story with Flacco despite the Ravens acquiring wide receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh this offseason.
Is there a fine line between Flacco playing composed rather than worrying about the turnovers?
“That’s the magic question,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “The bottom line is: You’ve got to trust. You’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to be smart-aggressive, which he is. We’ve just got to continue to get better in that area.
“The one thing you can’t do, no one at any position can be hesitant to step on that field. That’s not good. There might have been some hesitancy by guys at times, for some reason, for whatever reason, but we’ve got to get out of that.”
Still, the Ravens’ offseason upgrades have yet to materialize into a productive offense.
The Ravens rank 30th in scoring, an average of 10 points per contest with a total of two touchdowns and two field goals in eight quarters. And Baltimore is 25th in total offense, averaging 270.5 yards per game.
If the turnover problem persists, the hype about the Ravens’ Super Bowl prospects won’t be anything more than that.
“You turn the ball over seven times, that’s seven opportunities that are gone,” Cameron said. “You can’t score, and it’s my job to put us in a position when we’re not turning the ball over. We can’t turn the ball over, especially when you look out there and you see how our defense is playing.
“Our guys know that. I’m not sharing anything with you that we haven’t already talked about, and that they don’t already know. The No. 1 issue or the starting point for us offensively is taking care of the football, and we’ve got to get that done starting this week.”
Conversely, the defense has excelled.
They’re second in total defense, second in passing defense and first in third-down percentage, surrendering first down only 13.8 percent of the time.
However, the defense has forced only one turnover.
“That’s the job of a defense to try to get turnovers,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “You can’t try to invent things or try to make plays to get turnovers. You can’t squander opportunities. I know our guys are working very hard at it, and that’s what we’ll keep trying to do.
“We definitely know that our job is to get turnovers. Any chance we can, we’ve got to get some. I also believe that sometimes they come in streaks where all of a sudden, boom, you get a bunch of them. You just keep doing the same things: be around the football, be physical and keep going after the ball.
In a 10-9 win over the New York Jets, the defense allowed just three field goals despite the offense committing three turnovers. Cincinnati managed only five field goals despite the sudden change of four interceptions.
The defense has been extremely resilient.
"We’ve just got to keep on moving on," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "There’s going to be some times that our offense is a lot better than our defense, and we’re going to have to lean on our offense to help us win games. This happens with every team you’re going to have one unit do better than the other."
The Ravens are tied for first in red-zone defense with the Atlanta Falcons.
Opponents have been inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line six times, scoring 18 points on six field goals.
“I think you have to tip your hat off to our whole defense right now,” All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “We haven’t given up a touchdown in God knows how long. That’s why you play the game defensively. I think my secondary’s playing great.
“Overall, defensively, couldn’t be happier with the way our defense is playing. Can we get better? Absolutely. We can stop a couple more plays here and there. We’re really doing a good job so far.”
The Ravens haven’t played at home since an Aug. 28 preseason game against the New York Giants, a 24-10 win where Flacco threw two touchdowns and passed for 229 yards in just over one half.
Their last regular-season home game was a Dec. 20 victory over the Chicago Bears.
“It seems like forever since we came out of that tunnel,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I think it’s going to be special for our guys.”
Against the Browns, the priorities are clear: don’t turn the ball over, create turnovers on defense and contain versatile wide receiver and kick returner Joshua Cribbs.
Cribbs doubles as a Wildcat formation quarterback and running back.
“When they’re on offense, we need to be loud,” Harbaugh said. “And we need to be especially loud when they see No. 16 at quarterback. Let’s make the communication tough when they get in that Wildcat thing. ..
“We have to have this game. It’s a home game, it’s in the division. It’s critical for us.”
Despite the Ravens’ past dominance over the Browns, that’s not necessarily an indicator of what will happen today.