NFL teams always talk about starting fast, dictating tempo and enforcing their will upon opponents. Yet it has become common practice for teams that win the pregame coin toss to open the game on defense. Teams that profess to go on the offensive choose to begin games defensively. John Harbaugh is no exception to this trend. The Ravens defer whenever they win the coin toss.
But is that the right way to go?
Through 13 games the Ravens have won the coin toss 6 times. Here’s a snap shot of how the opening drives of each game have played out as well as the opening drive in the second half when the Ravens do in fact, defer.
What conclusions can we draw?
When the Ravens defer:
- Opponents on average run 4 plays for 16 yards.
- Five times opponents have been forced to punt after a 3-and-out.
- Only once has an opponent scored on the opening drive (TD), ironically the (0-13) Browns.
- To open the second half after deferring the Ravens have averaged 6 plays and 34 yards
- The Ravens have scored to open the third quarter twice, 1 TD and 1 FG.
When losing the coin toss, opponents have always deferred (an obvious trend in the NFL). When opponents defer the Ravens 7 opening drives:
- Average 8 plays, 48 yards.
- Produced 3 TD’s and 1 FG.
- Have ended in a 3-and-out just once in 7 tries (v. the Patriots).
Whether winning a toss and deferring or losing the toss and choosing which goal to defend, the Ravens start effectively. The defense has produced a 3-and-out 83% of the time to start the game and the offense has scored points during their first possession 57% of the time.
The end game when deferring, is to force a punt following the initial drive, score points to end the first half and then do the same to start the second half. The Ravens appear to have the first part of this three-part plan covered. Justin Tucker certainly helps immensely with the second objective.
As for the third objective the Ravens fall short. Given the effectiveness of opening drives to start the game relative to the effectiveness when the Ravens start with the ball in the third quarter, we can conclude that the team’s brain trust produces results when scripting the opening drive but they struggle to adjust at halftime.