Needing the best Joe Flacco has to offer
We have all been asked the age old question at some point. If you had to win one game, which quarterback would you have under center? It’s always the quarterback. It’s never which running back would you want, or wide receiver, or head coach, or offensive system you would want in place. It starts and ends with quarterback play.
The Ravens have to win one game and they don’t get the luxury of choosing from a list of all-time greats to lead them into battle. Joe Flacco is not on the short list of guys you would pick, and that’s ok. He doesn’t have to raise his game to some hall of fame level in order to be successful. However, the potential is there as we saw during his run through the playoffs last year that had him mentioned in the same breath as Joe Montana.
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You can look at a football season is a series of one game scenarios. In one game, anything can happen. While the overall season has been sub-par, guys can put it together for one game. Different areas of the team have had great games, just not all at once. If Joe Flacco is clicking Sunday the team will look better and could win this one, bettering their playoff chances. If they get in then all bets are off. When is the last time the best regular season team won the title? The Saints in 2009-10 I would guess.
The sixth year veteran is having one of his worst years, statistically. He is flirting with a completion percentage under 60% (58.9%) for the third straight year. His 6.60 yards per attempt is the worst he’s ever posted. Flacco has 18 passing TDs, and would need two on Sunday to avoid not breaking the 20 TD mark for the first time since his rookie year. He’s thrown 19 interceptions after never throwing more than 12 in any season. Flacco currently has a 75.8 quarterback rating which is the lowest he’s ever posted. He would need 280 yards passing on Sunday to eclipse the 4,000 yard mark for the first time in his career. But if you’re throwing 600 times, which Flacco will if he attempts 36 passes on Sunday, 4,000 yards should be a given.
Joe Flacco has to put all of that behind him and find his better half. No not his wife. I mean the guy who threw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions against four top teams in last year’s playoffs. He’s in there somewhere. What happened to the guy that John Harbaugh handed the reins to in the New England playoff game last year? Has he placed the reins back on?
Many excuses have surfaced all season long. There’s the lack of cohesion on the struggling O-line. The run game can’t keep defenses honest. Injuries to some key players. Eventually it falls on Joe Flacco to overcome these obstacles. Phillip Rivers has dealt with injuries to his receivers and has a below average O-line. He’s playing very well, despite the Chargers also needing help to get into January games. Tom Brady’s receivers are completely new for the most part. He’s got to deal with rookies all over the field, and a defense that doesn’t do much. The Pats running backs have a contagious case of fumble-itis. But Brady has overcome those things to get the Patriots into yet another first round playoff bye (for now).
Every offense has flaws in it. Even Peyton Manning struggled without Wes Welker at his disposal. He was average against the Chargers in a loss, and very mediocre for a half against the Texans. But it took Manning just six quarters to figure out how to play without Welker as a security blanket, and the Bronco offense is clicking again. After 15 games, the Ravens offense is still trying to decipher how to be more efficient.
Not every offensive scheme is an answer key, a magic formula for winning football. The flaws in Baltimore’s offense seem more prominent and overblown because Flacco is playing poorly. Despite the shortcomings around him, Flacco’s decision making is open to criticism. He’s flat out got to start playing better, right now. It starts with decision making and being more accurate. He’s thrown so many underthrown deep balls that could have been big gains or even TDs. He’s forced the ball too often to his first option when other guys are wide open. That’s not scheme. That’s fundamentals. If he would be more accurate and execute more often, no one would be complaining about the play calling.
They live and die by the deep ball. It’s a dangerous way to play, but can be very rewarding if Joe would just connect on more of them. Maybe the law of averages will play out and all of a sudden Joe can’t miss on his long bombs.
It’s the chicken or the egg debate. Is it scheme or execution? They go hand in hand. The scheme isn’t an issue if they execute. If they don’t execute it’s the scheme…or is it just poor play?
Games like the one the Ravens will play on Sunday are where Joe Flacco will be counted on the most to guide his team to victory. He’ll be counted on to put his single best game together despite the other problems around him. If he can rise up and do just that, and the Ravens get help from the Jets or Chiefs, they’ll make the playoffs for the sixth time in six years behind Flacco. Get there and no one will care about the missed opportunities throughout the year because he will have done what it took to get to January when it mattered most. It becomes a whole new ball game.
Easier said than done. Cincinnati has scored more than 40 points in each of their last four home games. Andy Dalton is red hot, throwing nine TDs and zero INTs in his last three games. The Ravens sent a relentless pass rush his way in their last meeting and it agitated him. The Ravens pass rush has been non-existent of late and the Bengals have one of the best pass blocking units in the NFL. A.J. Green is a beast, and Gio Bernard draws comparisons to Barry Sanders. You think he’s stopped for a five yard loss, all of sudden he turns it into a 20+ yard gain. The Bengals defense ranks 6th against the run and 6th against the pass. That’s what the Ravens are up against. The defense will have its hands full and the offense will be tested.
For the playoffs, The Bengals have a chance to move into the #2 seed with a Patriots loss to the Bills. So they’ll be playing hard, but also scoreboard watching. The Ravens would need to win AND a Dolphins loss OR a Chargers loss to get in. The Dolphins host the Jets who they have beaten in three of the last four meetings. The last two weren’t even close as Miami won by 21, and 20 respectively. Miami needs a win AND Raven loss OR a three way tie with the Ravens and Chargers. The Chiefs are locked into the #5 seed, and Andy Reid has said he plans on rotating backups in and out. So don’t count on a Sand Diego loss. Chargers get in with a win AND Ravens loss AND Dolphins loss. The Steelers host the Browns who they always beat. They are 23-3 against them since 2001. Steelers get in with a win AND losses by Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers. If all four teams in the hunt lose, the Ravens get in.