Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco played as big as his size this past Sunday against the New York Giants, registering three total touchdowns in a division clinching 33-14 win. It was one of his most impressive performances of the season, but questions still surround the future of the signal-caller. Has he shown enough to be deserving of a lucrative contract extension?
Arguments can be made for and against the Delaware alum because of his inconsistent play this season. His play has been equivalent to a roller coaster, with highs and lows seemingly coming at the least expected times, and that’s not to be expected from a franchise quarterback. At times this season, he’s made mistakes that have truly cost his team points in backbreaking fashion. But he’s made his fair share of brilliant throws that illustrate superb arm strength, underrated mobility, and quality accuracy.
Perhaps the biggest question that general manager Ozzie Newsome and his associates will be asking themselves is how much of Flacco’s issues can be improved, and which of them are entirely his fault?
It’s no secret that recently fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was not up to date with the NFL’s latest schemes, as he constantly utilized isolation routes that worked away from Flacco and depended on his humongous arm strength. There’s also interim play caller Jim Caldwell, who has only done the job for two weeks and has seen his young quarterback showcase both the best and worst of his abilities. And then there’s the man himself — Flacco — who has made some awful decisions on occasion, such as the pick-six throw in Week 15 vs. the Broncos, and overall he’s failed to execute the big plays when they’re most needed.
The gravest of concerns for the Ravens is that they don’t know what to expect four days from now when they travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals, who will also be in the knockout stages come January. Will they get the mistake prone Flacco that they saw in Week 15, or the brilliant Flacco from Week 16?
In Week 15, Flacco completed exactly 50 percent of his passes — his fourth-lowest percentage of his season — and had two turnovers to go along with a paltry one for 12 conversion rate on third downs. The interception that he threw to cornerback Chris Harris was an example of a throw that he never should have made and one that showed the immature side of the Ravens’ quarterback.
The Ravens were down 10-0 to the Broncos with the first half nearing its completion and they were on the goal line. It was first and 10 with Flacco under center. To each side he had pass catching threats — two receivers to his left and one receiver and a tight end to his right. In the backfield lined up offset was running back Ray Rice. The Broncos were lined up in a two defensive linemen package and had several defenders lined up at different depths to avoid any “rubs” or picks being that are so common in these red-zone situations.
Flacco’s intentions were to throw to his left. Wide receiver Torrey Smith, who was lined up the furthest out, was going to run straight up the field to grab the attention of the cornerback covering him and then the slot receiver, veteran Anquan Boldin, would be running a quick flat route that would (hopefully) conclude in a catch and quick stretch over the pylon for six points. All Flacco had to do was make the quick throw.
With the ball on the two yard line and 31 seconds on the clock, he took a quick three-step drop and focused his eyes on Boldin. On this type of dropback, Flacco is instructed to get rid of the ball as soon as his third step is taken and he did, but he threw the ball inaccurately as he drifted to his left.
As Flacco fell, his pass floated into the hands of Harris instead. The pass was thrown far too inside instead of out and in front of Boldin. Harris caught the pass and returned it 98 yards to give the Broncos all of the momentum and a 17-0 lead going into halftime.
These are the kinds of throws that left Newsome sweating. But the following week, Newsome was likely quite comfortable in his seat as his quarterback completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and the offense went an impressive 11 for 18 on third down, including two astounding conversions on 3rd-and-20.
On one of the 3rd-and-20 conversions, Flacco connected with tight end Dennis Pitta, who made a diving reception.
Flacco was in shotgun with 11 personnel lined up at various areas of the formation. His main target, Pitta, would be the No. 3 pass catcher from the Trips formation set to the left of him. The tight end was to run an over route that crossed both hashes and split the two deep safeties.
After Flacco took a five-step drop, he was under duress by the Giants’ defensive line that penetrated into the backfield and was chasing the quarterback from behind. This forced Flacco to climb the pocket while keeping his eyes up in hopes of finding a target.
While climbing, he went to his right where there was only Pitta running a route across the field. The young tight end was surrounded by Giants defenders but there was still a small window that Flacco could throw the ball into. He had enough arm strength to do so, and he threw a tight pass that got Pitta open when he was forced to adjust and corral it in.
As you can see, the throws discussed here are of different degrees of difficulty, yet they had two significantly different outcomes. Flacco will have to make more of the latter types of throws than the former if he’s going to take the next step and become a Super Bowl champion. At the moment, he’s far too inconsistent and he’s leaving too many plays out on the field.
I’m fully aware that quarterbacks leave plays out on the field, as it is their nature to do so because of the position they play. But there is a certain amount of throws, perhaps a handful, that need to be made to keep their team in every ballgame, and Flacco’s not making them most weeks.
It’s uncertain if the Ravens will lock up Flacco to an extension, but the odds do favor him because of the difficulty of finding a very good player at the position. He can still develop into a better and upper echelon quarterback if he improves his decision making and gains consistency in his mechanics (e.g. footwork).
Until then, he’ll just be an inconsistent Joe.