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Eisenberg: Please. Ravens Aren’t 9-2 Because Of Luck

Posted Dec 1, 2012

The Ravens’ season statistics aren’t typical of a 9-2 team. Their opponents have gained 271 more yards, generated 27 more first downs and averaged over five more minutes of ball possession per game.

A team with those shortfalls, ranked No. 24 in the league in total defense and No. 16 in total offense, doesn’t figure to have a strong record. The math doesn’t add up.

This has led to a rationale I’m hearing quite a bit, that the Ravens are lucky.

My response is to be careful with that overly broad swipe of an explanation. There’s a method to the madness of going 9-2 with those numbers, and it doesn’t involve a lot of luck.

That’s not to say good fortune hasn’t visited the Ravens in 2012. Luck is undeniably a factor in how every team fares; uncontrollable events such as inexplicable bounces, unpredictable officiating and the timing of injuries (just to name a few) can work for or against you. There’s no doubt the Ravens have benefited at times, as every team does.

They were lucky when Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel fumbled a perfect snap when he needed just 1 yard for a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter of a game the Ravens won by three points on Oct. 7.

They were lucky when both the Chiefs and Cleveland Browns (on Nov. 4) had fourth-quarter, go-ahead touchdowns erased by penalties.

Yes, they were fortunate when Ben Roethlisberger went down with an injury just as the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were getting ready to play two games in three weeks.

On the other hand, they weren’t so lucky when Terrell Suggs tore an Achilles tendon in the offseason, or when Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb suffered major injuries in October.

Inexplicable stuff works both for and against you over the course of a season. It tends to even out. And you find your appropriate level regardless.

The Chiefs aren’t 1-10 because they’re unlucky. They’re just bad.

The Browns aren’t 3-8 because they’re unlucky. They’re a talented team that has lost some winnable games because they don’t know how to win, which is a byproduct of youth and years of losing.

The Ravens aren’t 9-2 because they’re lucky. Take a closer look.

They’ve only coughed up nine turnovers all season, a ludicrously low number. Just two fumbles all year? They’re also first in the league in red-zone defense, so while they give up yards, they’re savvy enough to know when and how to gird themselves. And their special teams are far and away the NFL’s best this season, according to the NFL Outsiders website.

Yes, their offense has sputtered at times, especially on the road, and yes, their defense has experienced some brutal days, especially before the bye. But they’re a physical team that embraces fourth-quarter pressure as opposed to running from it, and few teams, if any, protect the ball or defend their end zone more ferociously. Oh, and they win the field-position battle almost every week.

That’s not luck. That’s just sound, solid football. Hit hard. Don’t give anything away. Let your defense keep you in it until something good happens.

It’s not a dominant approach and it’s not what qualifies as “pretty” in this era of pinball passing totals, so it is labeled “winning ugly,” which is fine.

But lucky, too? Be careful there.

While some might say the Ravens were lucky to go 2-0 the past two weeks despite scoring just one offensive touchdown, their defense kept them close, they didn’t commit a turnover and a big play put them over the top in each game.

Luck is something that happens that you couldn’t or didn’t control, for better or worse. Strong defense and turnover-free offense aren’t lucky.

Ray Rice’s 30-yard dash on fourth-and-29 was certainly a long-odds proposition, but the fact that it was Rice weaving through traffic with the ball, as opposed to the many other backs in the league with lesser playmaking skills, had something to do with it.

It wasn’t a typical way to pull out a win, but sheer luck? Please.

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