Joe Flacco is an enigma.
In a sport that demands consistency and cohesiveness, he doesn’t bring either to the table. He’s supported by a 51-year-old offensive coordinator named Cam Cameron whose gameplans suggest a dislike for Flacco (Peter King says there appeared to be a “disconnect” in 2011) and teammates that are, at times, a bit unreliable.
Cameron’s got a history of quality schematics (depending on who you ask), but that hasn’t been the case since he was hired by the Baltimore Ravens in 2008. His offenses have been generally vanilla, specifically lacking creative stacked and bunch sets that help get receivers open. He doesn’t use enough motion, and he isn’t creative with his two man concepts, which usually consist of some form of a ‘Hi-Lo’, or they work away from Flacco — which simply makes no sense when you analyze it in detail.
This lack of creativity has created a ball control offense that has significant issues when blockers aren’t creating alleys for Ray Rice, consequently resulting in 3rd and forever, as we saw during Baltimore’s AFC Championship Game loss to the New England Patriots — a game that perfectly summed up the Ravens’ offense during the 2011 season, so it’ll be used as an example in this article. The problem with Cameron’s offense is not only does it essentially leave Flacco handcuffed and bare naked (figuratively, although we have no idea what happens in those long meetings), he also has to somehow put on a good show.
As you may have predicted, Flacco struggled on third and long last season (except against the Steelers for some reason), which can be tied to the aforementioned vanilla concepts of Cameron as well as his teammates (sometimes) failing to do their job.
An instance of the latter is his receivers failing to get open or working back to the quarterback when they see him running for his life outside of the confines of the pocket. There’s two plays during Flacco’s two-minute drill in the first half against the Patriots that illustrate this issue: when tackle Michael Oher got a false start that extended 3rd and 9 to 3rd and 14, and when Dennis Pitta dropped a pass after running an out pattern on 3rd and 2.
Being Joe Flacco is hard.
Of course, when his blockers aren’t parting like the red sea and Cameron isn’t trying to sabotage his career, Flacco has his own problems. He still lacks consistency in his mechanics, and particularly his footwork. But that could finally change under the guidance of former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, who’s one of the league’s best and most meticulous quarterback coaches.
Flacco also still makes bad throws, and his interception around midfield during the fourth quarter against New England is a prime example. The Ravens lined up in 21 personnel, featuring two backs and a single tight end.
After the play action, Flacco eyeballed the middle of the field where tight end Ed Dickson was running a seam route. Looking at it from Flacco’s view, it looks like a throw he should not make because there are two defenders occupying the middle of the field. However, a further look shows that there’s a vacant space in front of his target that requires a touch pass by Flacco. A completed pass here will lead to a significant gain.
The touch pass is a difficult throw to make and one that requires the perfect amount of air under the ball so it softly sails through the wind, which will ideally carry the ball to Dickson. However, in this case, Flacco didn’t throw a touch pass; he threw a fastball…right into the hands of Brandon Spikes.
These are the throws that leave fans frustrated and criticizing Flacco. But he should also get praise for the plays he does make, even if they don’t result in completions. There was a mix of both during the final two-minute drill against the Patriots.
1:44 – 1st & 10 -Flacco slides to his left, misplaces a pass intended for Anquan Boldin, who ran a deep out pattern.
1:39 – 2nd & 10 – Snap taken from shotgun set, Vince Wilfork walks center Matt Birk back into Flacco, who stays calm and throws the ball to his outlet for five yards. Smart move to set up a manageable third down.
1:14 – 3rd & 5 – In a no huddle situation, Flacco signals the play to his teammates, drops back, and climbs the pocket to deliver a chain-moving pass to Boldin prior to getting drilled by two Patriots.
1:09 – 1st & 10 – Flacco drops back, poorly anticipates Ray Rice’s arrow route, which results in an incomplete pass. His fault.
[Ed Reed shook his head side to side in disappoint as he 'fixes' his headgear.]
1:05 – 2nd & 10 – Calm under pressure, Flacco delivers a strike to a diving Boldin despite no functional space to work with.
:58 – 3rd & 1 – With the clock running down, Flacco takes the snap and looks from right to left to find Boldin open for a catch and run for 29 yards.
:51 – 1st & 10 – Flacco throws a pass into the field (wide side) from the far hash to Boldin, who ran a speed out.
:28 – 2nd & 1 – Flacco delivers a quality pass to Lee Evans by dropping it over the outside shoulder of cornerback Sterling Moore, but the pass is dropped.
:22 – 3rd & 1 – Flacco is flushed out of the pocket, looks for his teammates to work back to him while they watch at him run for his life. Incomplete pass.
:15 – 4th & 1 – Billy Cundiff misses a game tying 32 yard field goal.
The evidence suggests that Flacco did all he could to propel the Ravens to the Super Bowl on the final drive despite not receiving a significant amount of help. He made some great throws and a couple poor ones, which is expected from any quarterback in a chaotic and pressure-filled situation. This drive could be foreshadowing for next season’s performance by Flacco, or as we’ve seen before, it could just be another flash and he’ll go back to his inconsistencies.
I’m not claiming that Flacco is better or worse than what his critics state. Rather, I’m suggesting that maybe we don’t know everything about Joe Flacco yet. Maybe he hasn’t realized his full potential and he’s being held back by a vanilla offensive coordinator. Or maybe Flacco’s just not as good as we’ve hoped.
What an enigma.