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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — What began as a brief statement open for interpretation after Sunday’s win over the New York Jets transformed into a loud declaration from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco two days later.
He’s no supporter of the wildcat offense. In fact, the sixth-year quarterback and Super Bowl XLVII went as far as saying the gadget offense that includes backup Tyrod Taylor under center and Flacco lined up as a wide receiver makes the Ravens look like amateurs.
“I would say it’s probably not taking too much out of context,” said Flacco when asked to clarify his post-game comments from Sunday. “It is what it is. I don’t like that stuff. I think it makes you look like a high school offense. That’s just my opinion.”
Whether you agree with his outspokenness or not, Flacco firmly placed a target on his back Tuesday similar to the manner in which he proclaimed himself to be the best quarterback in the NFL in the spring of 2012. And it sent a clear message that he wants the Ravens’ fate to be on his shoulders as they approach Thursday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers and beyond.
Entering Week 13 with a career-low 76.8 passer rating and a career-high 14 interceptions, Flacco hasn’t been at his best this year while dealing with the losses of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, inconsistent pass protection, and an abysmal running game. In fact, the decision to use Taylor for 12 offensive snaps — five at quarterback and seven at wide receiver — was a bigger indictment of the Ravens’ rushing attack and its expected difficulties against New York’s top-ranked run defense than anything directly related to Flacco.
But the quarterback believes novelties and gimmicks aren’t going to help the Ravens improve enough down the stretch to advance to the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. Of course, a 4-6 record entering last Sunday’s game made a fair argument for a need to try something different.
The pressure is now on Flacco to put his money where his mouth is in a way not dissimilar from his historic playoff performance last season that not only brought the Ravens their second NFL championship but earned him a lucrative payday.
“I don’t look at it as a slap in the face to me. It is what it is,” Flacco said. “I want as many chances as I can get behind [center]. I just don’t like that stuff in general. Me and Tyrod talk about it. It’s just interesting to me.
“I’m all for us doing things to get better, but we’re not going to be good if we just can’t get good at the basics of what we do 90 percent of the time. We’ve got to get good at those things or we’re not going to be good, no matter what. And I just want to make sure we’re focusing on getting good at those things.”
Flacco’s points are fair as there is plenty of evidence to support the Wildcat attack not being successful beyond a play here or there as Taylor’s 17-yard run provided a brief spark before the backup quarterback ultimately finished with seven yards on four carries. The dozen plays in which Taylor was involved didn’t appear to loosen up the Jets defense very much as the Ravens finished the day averaging 2.2 yards per carry on 31 rushes.
If the Ravens are impressed with Taylor’s speed and athleticism and want to see him involved with the offense, there are other ways to use him at wide receiver and even running back without moving the $120 million quarterback to the wide receiver position where offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is either risking injury or essentially playing with a man disadvantage before the ball is even snapped.
Whether Flacco’s comments come across as selfish or not are up to the individual, but the Ravens aren’t going to the playoffs by running gadget plays week in and week out. With their many deficiencies on the offensive side of the ball, they will sink or swim on Flacco’s arm.
And his comments Tuesday served as an indirect reminder of that.
“It’s definitely understandable, because Joe’s a great quarterback,” tight end Ed Dickson said. “It might take a little bit away from what he does well. Everybody’s not going to like it, but I can see both sides. I’m going to block if Joe’s out there and I’m going to block if Tyrod’s out there. I’m ready for both of them.”
It remains to be seen how much we’ll see Taylor involved in the offense moving forward as Flacco made it clear that he’s shared his thoughts with the coaching staff and said he doesn’t think we’ll see much of that approach in the future.
If it truly was a one-time shot against a tough run defense, the controversy will be forgotten as early as Thursday night, but a continued use of the gimmick offense could signal a bigger problem of Flacco and the coaching staff not being on the same page as the Ravens approach the final quarter of the season. Players in the locker room took the diplomatic approach when asked about Flacco’s defiant comments, taking what he said in stride.
“It’s not our everyday offense,” running back Ray Rice said. “It’s just something that gives teams a little bit something to prepare for and know that we have it in our arsenal. Look at what Pittsburgh did to us last game.”
Of course, it’s interesting to recall Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sharing his own thoughts about lining up at wide receiver for a handful of plays in the 19-16 win over the Ravens on Oct. 20, and he didn’t come across as a big fan of it.
Perhaps it’s a simple peek into the psyche of a franchise quarterback and a preference not to disrupt normal rhythm under center. Or, maybe established signal callers with Super Bowl rings are simply willing and able to voice their opinion when they feel something isn’t going to work.
“I’m not doing a single thing,” said Flacco when asked about his responsibilities when he lines up at wide receiver with Taylor at quarterback. “I’m not getting it. I’m not blocking. I’m not doing anything.”
Flacco drew a clear line in the sand on Tuesday by calling out the coaching staff and proclaiming he wasn’t OK with being anything but the man under center. His words were honest and bold, but they leave him wide open for criticism should he falter and the Ravens never find their stride in their quest to advance to the playoffs.
And while he has been far from the offense’s biggest problem during the 2013 season, the Ravens need to see more of what they got from Flacco on Sunday when he threw for 273 yards and turned in his best performance in several weeks.
“I’m the quarterback, I want to be behind the line of scrimmage, and I want to be taking the snaps,” Flacco said. “That’s really the only thing. And I don’t necessarily take it personally either in terms of our offense trying to get better. I just think it makes us look not like an NFL team.”
The Ravens need the 2012 playoff version of Flacco to emerge to avoid any urge to use such “high school” tactics in the offensive game plan and — more importantly — give them their best chance in their five remaining games.
And that assessment is as honest as Flacco was on Tuesday.