OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s complicated with Joe Flacco.
Quarterbacks regularly receive too much credit when teams win and too much blame after losses. Needless to say, the Ravens experienced too much of the latter in a winless October in which offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was fired and replaced by Marty Mornhinweg. An offense with high hopes entering the season currently ranks 24th in the NFL in yards per game and tied for 25th in points per game entering a much-needed bye week.
The numbers have been even uglier for Flacco, who currently ranks 30th among 32 qualified quarterbacks in yards per attempt, 29th with a 75.4 passer rating, and 21st among qualified quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. His career-worst 5.96 yards per attempt and career-high 44 passing attempts per contest reflect a passing game high in volume and short on results. The most concerning aspect of his performance has been how poorly he’s fared late in games, posting a 63.0 passer rating and throwing five interceptions in the second half of contests compared to a more respectable 86.0 rating with one pick in the first half of games.
Some have tried to place all blame on Flacco while barely acknowledging the many issues on the offensive line, a mostly-down running game, and the inconsistent play at receiver, but the ninth-year quarterback hasn’t been an answer for the struggling Ravens, either. That’s a major problem when you’re the team’s highest-paid player.
“I’m obviously not playing good enough,” Flacco said. “We’re not a good offense, and it starts with the quarterback. I’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be more precise, and that starts with me. Just [being] more consistent overall. They’re the issues — just being precise and consistency.”
You can’t expect everything to be perfect around Flacco, but too much has worked against him this season and he’s wilted too much under those conditions. He’s played behind five different starting offensive line combinations over the last five games — the last four being losses. It’s tough to trust your pass protection when you don’t even know who will be lining up in a given week.
The commitment and effectiveness of the running game have been called into question over and over. Those problems were major factors in Trestman’s dismissal, but the Ravens gained an embarrassing 11 yards on 11 carries in Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets. You just can’t be that one-dimensional and expect to beat anyone consistently, especially when playing on the road.
Even with the presence of vertical threats Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, it’s clear that Flacco still depends too heavily on the 37-year-old Steve Smith, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Without him, the Ravens lack a dependable receiver to run precise routes in the short-to-intermediate portion of the field as others have struggled to get open or catch the ball consistently.
No, Flacco’s play hasn’t been good enough this season, but the coaching staff and his teammates haven’t provided many reasons for him to play well.
“I’m a Joe Flacco guy. I believe in Joe,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Joe is one of the most important keys for us, if not the most important key. Certainly, on offense, he’s the key to the whole thing. Joe Flacco is a great football player. Joe Flacco is the key to our success. We need to all do everything in our power [to ensure] all of the things are falling in place for him. He can play. He can throw it. He can make decisions. He can score touchdowns for us. He can do all of the things we need to do. We need to make sure that we give him a chance to do that.
“Joe will take care of what he needs to do. I’m not worried about Joe taking care of what he needs to do. That’s something that we all go to work on. Joe works on it harder than anybody, cares about it more than anybody. We need to protect him. We need to run routes. We need to create confidence in our passing game. We need to run the ball well. We need to do the things we need to do to make the offense work, and Joe will make the offense work.”
The Ravens can only view the bye as a chance to reboot physically and start fresh as an offense. No matter how ugly the eyeball test has looked throughout the season, Harbaugh’s team remains in solid position in the AFC North with just a one-game deficit behind first-place Pittsburgh.
The time off will allow Flacco to rest a sore right shoulder and Smith to work his way back from an ankle sprain. In the meantime, Mornhinweg will have a chance to briefly catch his breath after taking over the coordinator job less than three weeks ago and can search for ways to jump-start a stagnant offense.
The biggest key for a turnaround will be the health of the offensive line, however, with rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda both targeting a Week 9 return. Stanley was Baltimore’s earliest first-round pick in 16 years and had been progressing nicely until a foot injury sidelined him for the last four games. Of course, Yanda is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, but the linchpin of the offensive line returned to practice this week.
Straightening out the offensive line would go a long way in trying to figure everything else out.
“Building a good team always starts up front, and it starts with those guys,” Flacco said. “We are going to try to overcome anything we can, but those guys are a huge part of our success. Having everybody be healthy goes into that. Obviously, everybody deals with little things here and there, and each team has their own issues with that. It will definitely be a big part of it.”
The biggest problem for Flacco at this point might be his confidence as the unrest along the offensive line has wreaked physical and mental havoc on his play in the pocket. This was on full display against the Jets as the veteran quarterback displayed sloppy footwork and reacted to pressure that wasn’t even there on multiple occasions.
According to Pro Football Focus, Flacco was pressured 11 times by the Jets, which is far from great but isn’t so outrageous when dropping back to pass 46 times in a game. When he wasn’t pressured in Week 7, he still managed only 6.6 yards per attempt and a 72.6 rating.
It’s a two-way street with a quarterback trusting his offensive line and the unit needing to give him enough reason to have that confidence. After a long offseason of rehabbing his left knee and a frustrating start to the season, perhaps a few days off is exactly what Flacco needs to clear his head.
“Right now, we just have one guy here and there doing something that is a little bit off — myself [included] – and it halts a whole drive,” Flacco said. “When that happens throughout the course of the game and you have a good amount of those, it leads to what we have been dealing with, which is not putting any points on the board and not giving ourselves really any opportunities to put any points on the board.”
With better health and plenty of fine-tuning, the Ravens hope to create more scoring opportunities in the second half of the season.
And they’ll need their franchise quarterback to be ready to take advantage of them if there’s any hope of righting a season moving in the wrong direction.