It has been heavily noted the struggles that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been having. Having seen Flacco practice and watched him throw next to other quarterbacks I know that he has all the physical tools he needs to be an elite NFL quarterback.
The quarterback might take all the blame for a poor offensive outing like the one the Ravens had against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but there are also other things to consider. Sure this whole post may sound like I am making excuses for Flacco but I hope you, the reader, agrees with me on at least one of these points. First and foremost, any good offense needs a strong offensive line. Coming into the season the offensive line was in limbo but looked pretty strong on paper. The biggest question mark was center Matt Birk’s health, and the right tackle position. The Ravens went out and signed Bryant McKinnie to play the left tackle position and moved left tackle Michael Oher back to right tackle. The Ravens offensive line had little practice together but looked very solid against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week one. So did Joe Flacco. Pro Bowl Guard Ben Grubbs then hurt his toe. The Ravens tried to replace him with tackle Mark LeVoir for one game against the Tennessee Titans. Like the Jaguars game, the Ravens offensive line had trouble opening holes for Ray Rice and protecting Joe Flacco. The Ravens lost that game because they could not muster much offense. LeVoir has since been released by the Ravens. Also, note that wide receiver Lee Evans was playing hurt with an ankle injury that still has him sidelined. Grubbs’ replacement the past few weeks has been backup center Andre Gurode. Gurode has gone to the Pro Bowl multiple times as a center for the Dallas Cowboys. Keep in mind that the Cowboys have the NFL’s largest fan base, and since the Pro Bowl is voted on by the fans, then it may have just been a popularity contest that got him voted, not his athletic ability. In fact, I was never impressed with Gurode as a center when playing for the Cowboys, I saw many bad snaps. Gurode also never had much experience playing guard when with the Cowboys. Gurode is now 33 years old and is being taught to play a new position at the NFL level, and it has not gone well. The Ravens signed Gurode to be a backup to Birk later in the season, and in the playoffs, just in case Birks’ knee did not hold up. The left side of the offensive line has struggled the most and it is easy to see when you look at the ages of the players. McKinnie is 32, Gurode is 32, and Birk is 35, not exactly the youngest group. Birk and Marshal Yanda, the right guard, have played the best. Oher has had his trouble at right tackle, committing way too many false starts and holding penalties. Some offenses can get away with a poor offense line. Rice, a small yet powerful running back only needs a small hole to have an effective run. It speaks volumes when he has trouble getting more than two yards on a carry, or is stopped in the backfield. The offensive line has been so bad that Flacco has had a guy on him as soon he gets out of his drop. Special quarterbacks can manage poor offensive lines. Mike Vick is an example, well he is the exception of a quarterback who can use one of a kind running ability to break away and create plays when the offensive line fails. Vick, however, has also had trouble staying healthy throughout his career and has been a turnover machine both with fumbles and interceptions. Ben Roethlisberger, as much as Ravens fans hate him, is the true exception. He has managed a poor offensive line because of his pure size. It is hard for one player to take down Roethlisberger. Also, the type of offense the Steelers have run has become more of a quick passing offense with more spread out wide receivers.
To counteract the poor offensive line play the Ravens need to spread the ball out more. They have all the personnel to do it too. They have a good young receiver group, and while that is also the part of Flacco’s troubles, it can also be a solution. The Ravens have been using a lot of three receiver sets, yet they could be doing more. Tandon Doss and David Reed were both exceptional receivers in college. They have showed the ability to be good NFL receivers in preseason action, yet Cam rarely calls upon them to play offense. In fact, neither one of them has a catch. If you look at the great offenses in the league they all use all their talent. New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, all use all their receivers.
The tight ends the Ravens have, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, are pass catching tight ends. They are not great blockers and have had trouble with run blocking. Yet the Ravens have asked them to block more than they ask them to run routes. Rice is another player who would fit perfectly in a more spread out offense. He is fast, has great hands, and can be a power runner when needed. The Ravens can always use the pass to open up the run. Running is something they have always been able to do but they have had trouble running to the right side since Grubbs has been hurt. Against the New York Jets late in the game, the best runs were to the right side. The Ravens finally have a good set of receivers. Doss, Reed, Dickson, Pitta, Rice, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Evans, and LaQuan Williams are all great talents. With the exception of Rice and Boldin they are all very new to Flacco. With the absense of offense workouts and a shortened training camp, Flacco and his new receivers had very little time to develop a chemistry. Flacco lost his two favorite targets, tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason, while they are both well past their prime. Flacco had great chemistry with them and had a much higher completion percentage with them than his new group. It will take time for Flacco to develop great chemistry with his young receivers. Smith and Williams, who have been playing a lot are both rookies and do not run the best routes, which contributes to the inaccuracy of Flacco. Also if you look at the best wide receiver- quarterback tandems in the NFL, all of them have been together for years. Wes Welker and Tom Brady are a perfect example, while Welker and Brady had chemistry right away, it is now in Welker’s fourth year with Brady and the Patriots, and is having his best season.
Against the Jaguars, the only receiver that was able to get much separation was Torrey Smith. Flacco did not have time to wait until receivers got open because he was pressured right away. I have seen even the best quarterbacks struggle under pressure. Remember Tom Brady playing against the Ravens in the playoffs in 2010? Brady was without his favorite target Welker, and while under pressure he completed 23 out of 42 of his passes with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His quarterback rating was a horrid 49.1. He also had a fumble in that game and was sacked three times. Flacco could be worse, he could be forcing the ball into holes that are not there and throwing interceptions. Flacco only has five interceptions on the season because he is smart enough to not throw the ball into bad spots. I know this might have been a little wordy but it can be broken down into this. The Ravens need to improve on the offensive line and Flacco and his receivers need time to gain chemistry. The more time Flacco has, the more time his receivers have to get open. Hope you enjoyed this.