While many people question the ability of the Ravens offense this year, head coach Brian Billick says he thinks this year's unit is better than the one that helped him win a Super Bowl last year.
In terms of overall talent, Billick is probably right. Key injuries have certainly impeded the offense's progress this season. And at least Ravens fans are still counting the number of games that the defense is holding the opposing running backs to less than 100 yards, not the number of consecutive quarters that the offense has failed to score a touchdown, right?
But one thing is clear. This year's offense has been it's own worst enemy in terms of showing improvement.
According to Tony Nistler of Stats, Inc. (a company that makes their business out of knowing all the stats and nothing but the stats), the Ravens are tied for second in the NFL in running plays that have resulted in negative yardage. Yep, you read it right -- the offense of the defending Super Bowl Champions has their engines switched on reverse more often than anyone else in the NFL, except for the Seattle Seahawks and the New York Giants. They have more negative yardage plays than the winless Detroit Lions for Pete's sake.
The offense has ended up being forced to regain hard-fought yardage sixty times over the first eight games. 36 rushing plays have resulted in losses of 51 yards -- not that big of a deal in terms of yardage. But in terms of frequency of running the ball for a loss, the Ravens are second only to the Chargers in failing to gain ground amongst the top ten loss leaders.
If the Ravens' ground game continues to lose yardage while rushing at the same pace during the second half of the year, they will post 72 rushing losses compared to just 50 last season by the offense that struggled to score touchdowns.
Of course, some of that "negative" credit falls upon the shoulders of the embattled and bruised offensive line which has been forced to play the NFL version of musical chairs from week-to-week. It is also in large part their responsibility to keep the quarterback healthy during pass plays, and in this area the Ravens don't fare much better. The 19 sacks they have allowed to date have resulted in 127 negative yards -- and a quarterback who has been beaten up so badly and often that he may soon utter the infamous "I am Batman" line from that old commercial where the team's quarterback has been knocked so senseless that he thinks he is the Caped Crusader himself.
The final contributor to the negative yardage that was included in the rankings was pass plays that resulted in losses. The Ravens posted five of those for another 13 yards.
The complete list of top ten offensive loss leaders includes:
1) Seahawks (63 plays)
2) Ravens and Giants (tied at 60)
4) Chargers (57)
5) Buccaneers (56)
6) Broncos and Bills (tied at 54)
8) Titans and Patriots (tied at 53)
With Elvis Grbac apparently returning for the Ravens' clash with the Titans on Monday Night, perhaps the offense will begin to reverse this trend and will prove to the fans and the media that they are ready to begin their Super Bowl run.
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