OWINGS MILLS, Md. — To the many clamoring for Joe Flacco to take more snaps in the shotgun formation, the prolific second half of the 30-27 comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals was significant ammunition in their favor.
Not counting plays negated by penalty, the starting quarterback lined up in the shotgun 36 times in the second half while taking the snap under center just eight times as the Ravens produced 24 points and 249 yards of offense in the final 30 minutes to complete the largest comeback victory in franchise history. Flacco was particularly sharp in the comeback effort, throwing for 238 of his 336 passing yards after halftime.
With the Ravens having such success in the shotgun and often times running a no-huddle attack to slow an Arizona pass rush that gave them fits in the first half, the question was posed to coach John Harbaugh whether Baltimore would use a more shotgun-heavy approach moving forward. Of course, Flacco worked extensively in the formation during his days at the University of Delaware, which created questions about the quarterback’s ability to play under center prior to the 2008 draft.
Harbaugh was quick to point out the Ravens have called many plays with Flacco in the formation, even if not as extensively as was witnessed Sunday.
“We’ve done a lot of it since he’s been here,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve been in the shotgun a ton. Will we do more of it? I think it depends on the situation. Yeah, if it gives us the best chance to move the ball more than we did last year, more than we did in one game.”
Playing exclusively in the shotgun has its drawbacks despite Flacco’s success against the Cardinals secondary. For one, it forces him to take his eyes off the defense when taking the snap. Though only for a split second, that time can make a major difference when trying to decipher a coverage or note any last-second changes a defense might make. Taking the snap under center allows a quarterback to keep his eyes on the opposition the entire time.
More importantly, however, extensive use of the shotgun limits what an offense can do with its running game. Draws, traps, and direct snaps are certainly options, but the sheer number of running plays in the playbook is pared down without the quarterback lining up under center.
For an offensive line generally equipped to play power football, the shotgun eliminates that attitude and makes an offense more predictable and one-dimensional. Despite the great success throwing the football against Arizona, it was apparent how the running game — or, at least the threat of it — was adversely affected as fullback Vonta Leach stood on the sideline for most of Sunday’s second half.
“You’ve got to have [Flacco] under the center, too,” Harbaugh said. “There’s formations that he’s going to be under center. There are certain concepts that run better under center, but we like him in the gun and we like him under center, too. But, he is [effective]. He’s been effective in the shotgun, that’s true.”
Perhaps the most interesting result to come out of the extensive use of the shotgun and no-huddle attack was the way in which it aided the offensive line in pass protection, an area where it struggled immensely in the first half. Both Flacco and Harbaugh believe it wore out the Arizona front seven as they continued to chase after the quarterback play after play with little rest in the second half.
“I think the tempo helped us,” Harbaugh said. “The fact that the no-huddle stuff kept them out of some of their pressure. They still pressured, but it’s hard to rush the passer when you start getting tired, so I think that helped us, too.”
For a line that’s struggled in pass protection for much of the season, it might be the biggest reason in support of using a more up-tempo approach of going no-huddle and using the shotgun more extensively the rest of the season.
It remains to be seen how much of an impact Sunday’s second half will have on the Ravens’ offensive attack, as future opponents will undoubtedly take a long look at what Baltimore was able to accomplish against the Arizona defense. The prospect of running it dramatically more than the offense has been is unlikely, but it certainly gives the Ravens another weapon on which they shouldn’t hesitate to rely when necessary.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear John Harbaugh’s entire post-game press conference in Owings Mills on Monday afternoon.