Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How good are the Ravens?

As we all get ready for Sunday's playoff game in Miami, I wanted to look at the matchup against the Ravens the second time around.

Here's an email I received from a reader:
Just how good are the Ravens? Can the Dolphins score enough points against that tough Ravens defense to move to the next level in the post season?

Before I look at how good the Ravens are now, I want to go back to look at how good both they and the Dolphins were playing following their first matchup.

I'll be using the Football Outsider's DVOA ratings again, so check out that site's explanations if you aren't familiar with these numbers.

Baltimore was ranked 7th overall in DVOA at 20.2%. Their offense and special teams were struggling with negative DVOAs of -3.5% (23rd in NFL) and -1.9% (26th) respectively. However, their defense was absolutely dominating with the best DVOA in the league at -25.5% (remember, negative DVOAs are good for defenses).

Meanwhile, Miami had the 13th best overall DVOA following that game at 9.8%. Thanks in large part to the tremendous immediate impacts of the Wildcat, Miami had the 3rd highest rated offense with a 22.2% DVOA. The defense was playing right around league average (2.3%, 16th) and the special teams were horrendous (-10.0%, 31st).

So how have these two teams changed since then. Here's how both teams Weighted DVOAs look following the regular season. The weighted numbers better reflect how teams are playing right now.

  • Weighted DVOA (29.7%, 3rd best)
  • Weighted Offense (5.7%, 15th)
  • Weighted Defense (-22.3%, 3rd)
  • Weighted Special teams (1.8%, 13th)
  • Weighted DVOA (7.5%, 13th)
  • Weighted Offense (17.3%, 9th)
  • Weighted Defense (7.0%, 17th)
  • Weighted Special teams (-2.8%, 28th)
So what's changed?

Well, for Baltimore, their defense has remained one of the truly elite units all season long. Their offense, however, improved to the point that it is helping the team win games now rather than just accompanying the defense to victories. Their special teams units stayed relatively the same.

For Miami, its weighted DVOA is similar to its regular DVOA following the first game. The offense is still playing with incredible efficiency, although it's not quite as potent as it was. The defense slipped slightly while the special teams has improved a decent amount.

So at first glance, it looks like Baltimore got appreciably better in the two units that were hampering it the most while maintaining its stifling defense. That's not good news for the Dolphins.

It will be an interesting dynamic to see such a turnover-averse offense like Miami's go up against the take-away machine of the Ravens. Last time, the Ravens got the better of that matchup by capitalizing on one of Pennington's few mistakes all season long.

Baltimore completely shut down the Wildcat the first time around. Miami is now without Justin Smiley and Greg Camarillo, and possibly David Martin. In all likelihood, scoring opportunities for Miami will be few and far between. Miami may have to rely heavily on its defense stepping up big and creating turnovers that result in advantageous field position if they are to have a shot.

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