If you need evidence of how important it is to protect the football, look no further than Peyton Manning, who found himself on the losing end of a double-overtime thriller to the Ravens on Saturday.
Manning’s miscues – a fumble and two interceptions – allowed the Ravens to capitalize and advance to their second consecutive AFC Championship game, where a familiar opponent will greet them.
Looking at the stats, it may not seem that the Ravens offense has had more success this season than they did in 2011. However, with the recent change in offensive coordinator from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell, the Ravens are a far better team than they appear on paper.
The same can be said for the Patriots defense.
Now, the Patriots defense is far from pretty on paper, ranking 25th overall. They had the 29th ranked pass defense, allowing an average of 373.2 yards per game. However, despite giving up large chunks of yards, they were ninth in the league in scoring defense, allowing 20.7 points per game.
So how do they do it?
The Chicago Bears led the NFL with 44 takeaways this season, but the Patriots were second best with 41. To put in perspective how impressive that mark is, the Cincinnati Bengals were the second-best team in the AFC and only had 30 takeaways.
Of course, the talking heads will drone on and on this week about how Joe Flacco is a liability who hurts his team with costly turnovers.
Which couldn’t be further from the truth.
In his previous four playoff games dating back to last season, Flacco has thrown for nine touchdowns and has only been intercepted once. So far this postseason, Flacco has yet to be intercepted and has thrown for five touchdowns.
Flacco has been showing confidence in his arm strength and receivers by taking numerous deep downfield shots. And he’s been having plenty of success doing so. After his performance against Denver and perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey, Flacco’s confidence may be at an all-time high. Second-year receiver Torrey Smith had three catches for 97 yards and two scores at Mile High, and veteran Anquan Boldin caught four passes greater than 20 yards last week when the Ravens beat the Colts to open the playoffs.
On the ground, the Patriots were better, boasting the ninth-best defense against the run. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is a major reason why the Patriots have defended the run well, but the Ravens should be encouraged after running back Ray Rice rushed for 131 yards on 30 carries against the Broncos, who came in as the league’s 3rd best rush defense.
After fumbling twice during the Wild Card round against the Colts, some were worried that Rice had a serious case of fumblitis. However, he eased those fears in Denver, touching the ball a total of 32 times without fumbling in single digit temperatures.
Judging by the stats, it appears as if the Ravens offense should have a field day against the Patriots, but nothing changes the momentum in a game more than turnovers.
To continue their run to New Orleans, the Ravens will have to continue to be stingy with the football, and make sure that yards turn into points against New England.