The Offense is the Key to Beating the Ravens, But Not in the Way You Think

I recently learned the Ravens defense ranked near the top of some important statistical categories. That surprised me because I've seen many of their games, and while they never seemed bad, they never seemed like one of the best defenses in the league. Since I thought I may have misjudged them, I wanted to watch a few games, especially against good offenses. The Lions qualified, but that game was still fresh in my mind. They played the Texans in week 1, but Stroud and the offense seemed to be going through growing pains, and the Bengals in week 2, but Burrow was hobbled. The Titans in week 6 seemed like the next best option. (The Ravens haven't played a lot of good offenses.)

Now, the Ravens defense looked good in this game, but their offense stood out even more--specifically, their ball control, which I define as the ability to run a lot of plays, consume a lot of the clock, while protecting the football. The Ravens are very balanced offense, consistently completing 8-15 yard passes and 3-6 yard runs. (They rarely seem to complete a pass more than 20 air yards.) In the game against the Titans, the offense also limited negative plays, penalties, and turnovers. These elements, by themselves, would lead to great ball control, if not scoring (The Titans kept the Ravens out of the end zone, holding the Ravens to several field gulls early on), but Lamar's occasional option run (which badly fooled the Titans once or twice) and running off of pass plays makes the ball control even better. Put this all together, they look like one of the best offenses in the league, especially in terms of ball control (equal or better than the 49ers and Eagles in this regard). They may not score, but their offense will consistently have a lot of long possessions.

In my view, the Ravens defense is very good, but I can't help but feel that Ravens offensive ball control is a big reason for this. I also think the Ravens defense will perform even better if the opposing offense strings together a series of short possessions (e.g., three and outs). This happened to the Lions. They started the game with several short possessions, while the Ravens had several long possessions, ending in TDs. The Lions defense and offense seemed overwhelmed and by the second quarter the game was over.

What does this have to do with the Seahawk offense? In my view, to have a chance at winning, the Seahawk offense must match or exceed the long possessions of the Ravens.This is more important than scoring TDs, or even scoring on a lot of these drives in my view. Even if the Hawks score TDs on a several of their early drives, giving them a big lead, if their possessions are consistently short, their defense will weaken as the game progresses, enabling the Ravens offense to have longer drives and score more points. Additionally, as the game progresses, the Ravens defense will also be in good position to shorten the drives and scoring of the Hawks offense. In other words, if the Seahawks offense consistently have short possessions throughout the game, the Ravens can overcome a significant deficit. And in this scenario, if the Hawks don't build an early lead, I believe the Ravens would win this handily.

Now, some readers may wonder why the onus should fall on the Seahawk offense and not the defense. If the Ravens ball control is a big problem, then doesn't the onus fall on the Seahawk defense to get the Ravens off the field quickly? The short answer is that the Seahawk defense is not good enough to do this consistently. This is not a slight on them. The Ravens ball control is really good, and limiting long possessions would require a dominant defensive performance. Even if Leonard Williams performs at a high level, if the Hawks played the Ravens 10 times, I would expect this type of performance no more than 2-3 times; and the number would be lower if the Seahawk offense had a lot of short possessions.

Having said that, while the Seahawk defense may not be able to significantly limit long possessions, I believe they can limit the Ravens scoring and maybe take away the ball from them, keeping the game close, maybe even contribute to a win by scoring--if the Seahawks offense can match or exceed the long drives of the Ravens. Additionally, long drives of the Hawks offense can soften the Ravens defense--the Raven defense is not so great that they're almost impervious to playing a lot of snaps. This can lead to longer drives and points for the Hawks, especially later in the game.

Most fans judge offenses in terms of scoring. This is wrong in my view. While scoring is important, ball control is equally important for an offense. An offense that is great at scoring, but terrible at ball control is not a great offense. It is not the type of offense that wins Super Bowls. Pay attention to ball control while watching both offenses. I think it's the key to the game.