Did the Ravens throw the ball deep too often on Sunday?
To answer that we’d need to understand both the circumstances and results. Realizing, of course, that the outcome alone does not justify the gamble, let’s start by reviewing all the balls Flacco threw 20+ yards downfield:
1. (Q1, 14:22) In the face of Polomalu’s blitz, Flacco threw deep between the numbers and left hash for Torrey Smith. Smith turned and came close to hauling in the on-target throw, but Taylor stripped the ball. The Steelers’ CB limped off the field and would not return with a broken bone in his foot.
2. (Q2, 11:19) Smith had a step on Cortez Allen at the goal line between the hashes, but Allen was tracking the football. The ball was underthrown by perhaps 6 yards and Smith had to pull the ball free to avoid an interception. Simms commented that the ball could have been thrown to the outside as well to give Smith a chance to make the catch uncontested.
3. (Q2, 10:38) Allen tugged on Smith’s arm to prevent him from separating at the 10-yard line. A 30-yard PI was assessed when the ball fell incomplete in the end zone. Smith and Flacco have had success with long pass interference penalties because of the combination of Joe’s arm and Smith’s speed. Last year, they combined for the 3 longest PIs drawn in the NFL (50, 50, and 60 yards).
4. (Q2, 4:01) Flacco launched the ball down the left sideline for Boldin who caught it for a gain of 31 (24 in the air + 7 YAC) with Allen again in coverage.
5. (Q2, 3:23) On the very next play, Flacco threw a nearly identical pass from the same formation. Allen was again in coverage 27 yards down the left sideline and began to tackle Boldin just before the ball arrived. Boldin nonetheless hauled it in and fell forward for the TD.
6. (Q3, 8:24) Flacco threw for Jacoby Jones 25 yards down the right sideline. The ball was overthrown by approximately 2 yards, but JJ got a tip that avoided any possibility of an interception by Keenan Lewis.
7. (Q3, 5:08) Flacco threw deep left to the goal line where Smith had plenty of room to haul in the ball behind Allen, but he dropped it. Flacco was visibly upset.
8. (Q4, 15:00) On 3rd and 15, Flacco threw 44 yards down the right sideline for Jones. Lewis had position underneath and leapt to deflect the ball for a PD.
9. (Q4, 6:43) The Ravens zone blocked left as Flacco booted right. Leach missed the block on Worilds, which forced Joe to throw on the run. He launched a 48-yard artillery shell between the hashes. Smith anticipated an underthrow, but the ball went long over him and Lewis.
- Flacco was 2 of 8 for 58 yards plus a 30-yard PI with a 1 TD, 0 INT on his deep balls
- With Taylor’s injury, Flacco picked primarily on Cortez Allen. He had trouble finding the football.
- The absence of LaMarr Woodley meant Dick Lebeau had to scheme more for pressure, which left more Steelers backpedaling from the line of scrimmage and inviting the long ball.
- Flacco had Ample Time and Space (ATS) on 24 of 37 dropbacks. Consistent ATS is an incentive to try for longer pass plays.
- The long throws were generally on target and not dangerously misthrown. Smith had a drop and another on which he might not have been stripped.
The Ravens threw a number of deep balls because the Steelers, due to both injury and defensive scheme, dared them to do so. While the result wasn’t a Ravens’ win, I’d be much more concerned if the team was unwilling to take such risks.
The Ravens had 56 snaps (excluding Flacco’s first-half kneels) and the starting linemen played every snap:
Oher: None of the broadcast, all-22, or top view have a view of Oher’s unnecessary roughness. I can understand such penalties for Pollard and Reed who have something to gain from launching themselves at a player to dislodge the football, but there are no excuses for the Oher’s hot headedness. He allowed the game’s pivotal sack/FF to Harrison on a long outside rush. In contrast with the 4th-quarter sack allowed by Osemele, Oher never got his hands in good position on Harrison, and the Ravens were in good game position to accept a holding call to avoid a sack on 3rd and 5 with a 7-point lead. He couldn’t even pull down Harrison and the game turned into another home December nightmare to the Steelers. Scoring: 50 blocks, 4 missed, 1 pressures, .33 QH, 1 sack, 32 points (.56 per play). That score would normally be an F, but his penalty came after a failed 3rd down, so it didn’t have the drive-killing impact of a holding call. I’d increase his score by .10 (equivalent to a reduction of 6 penalty points) which still makes the performance a D.
Reid: Jah went unpenalized for the first time as a starter Sunday. He pulled past the blitzing Polomalu (Q4, 10:25) on Pierce’s 1-yard loss. On the play immediately preceding that, he allowed Keisel a leaping PD at the LoS. Jah wasn’t party to any knockdowns of Flacco and pulled successfully on 3 of 4 attempts. Scoring: 51 blocks, 3 missed, 1.5 penetrations, 1 pressure, 46 points (.81 per play). C+ with some extra credit points for handling Keisel and the Steelers’ schemes well.
Birk: Centers naturally have higher scores because they call the blocking assignments and protection works from the inside out. Matt had his lowest scoring game of the season Sunday which included a sack allowed when he failed to pick up Foote on the front end of the Steelers cross blitz (Q3, 0:44) which resulted in the quick-whistle sack. I charged him with one third of Foote’s QH (Q4, 6:30) on the Ravens’ last offensive snap. He shared a Timmons’ pressure (Q1, 5:54) with Rice. It’s rare a center allows 3 pass-rush events in a single game, but Birk exacerbated the problem by missing 5 blocks. He had a single block in level 2 and 1 pancake, but did provide some complimentary blocking to the efforts of Yanda and Osemele when the Ravens ran. Scoring: 49 blocks, 5 missed, .5 pressure, 1/3 QH, 41 points (.72 per play). F.
Yanda: Marshal returned to top form after his worst game of the season against the Chargers. Heyward beat him for a pressure shared with Reid (Q3, 9:46). He had 4 blocks in level 2, and had several good drive blocks, but he was not used to pull. He and Osemele dominated their matchups on the offensive right side (ORS) for the Ravens. Scoring: 54 blocks, 2 missed, 1/2 penetration, 53 points (.93 per play). A.
Osemele: We had been waiting since the opener for another top-drawer game from Osemele and he delivered against the Steelers. Kelechi mauled the Steeler run defense and had just a single missed block after leading the team in each of the previous 4 games (33 misses total). His miss Sunday came when he was driven 4 yards into the backfield by Heyward (Q3, 5:00). Osemele kept his man engaged and Rice deftly maneuvered behind the occupied Heyward, sliding all the way left for a 34-yard TD. Here were KO’s highlight run blocks:
- (Q1, 6:34) He got Hood to commit, then pushed him 6 yards back and to the outside as Rice ran right for 7 yards.
- (Q1, 3:22) He drove Foote almost to the right sideline as Rice ran right for 4 yards.
- (Q2, 7:25) He pushed Foote 10+ yards on Pierce’s 9-yard run right.
- (Q3, 7:00) He drove Hood 4 yards back as Pierce ran middle for 11 yards.
- (Q3, 1:52) He and Leach doubled the unfortunate Foote, driving him 12 yards back to lead Rice’s 10-yard run right.
Hood registered a slow developing sack (6 seconds, Q3, 6:09) when blocked by Osemele. Kelechi contacted Hood several times on his great circle route to drop Flacco from behind. That was a case where Joe needed to either run or get rid of the football. His only protection error was a QH allowed to Worilds on an inside spin move (Q1, 2:06). Scoring: 57 plays, 55 blocks, 1 missed, 1 QH, 52 points (.91 per play). A. I’d rate the caliber of Osemele’s competition (primarily Hood and Foote) as low, but Lebeau tried a number of schematic tricks to confuse the Ravens line, so Osemele’s performance is that much more impressive.
McKinnie: He was inserted for 3 jumbo formations. Bryant was bulled by Harrison for a pressure (Q1, 13:37), made a block, and missed a cut on Hood (Q3, 6:19). Scoring 3 plays, 1 block, 1 pressure, -1 points (-0.33 per play).
- With ATS, Flacco was 11/23 for 155 yards (154 net), 1 TD/0 INT, and 1 sack for a loss of 1 (6.4 YPP). That’s below his 9.0 YPP average for the season.
- Without ATS, he was 5/11 for 43 yards (33 net) with 0 TD, 1 INT, and 2 sacks for 10 yards (2.5 YPP). That’s also below his season average of 3.7 YPP without ATS.
- Flacco was substantially below his season and 3-year norms for the opportunities he was given. Let’s view this through a different lens. Had he thrown for season average yardage on both ATS and non-ATS plays, he would have thrown for 262 net yards, but he actually finished with only 177. That 85-yard differential is attributable to a fair number of factors which could be broadly described as:
- the effectiveness of Flacco
- the efforts of other skill position players and offensive scheme (e.g. did they sell fakes effectively, did they get open, did they have drops, did they get YAC, were they required to block?)
- the success of the defensive scheme and players (e.g. did they create pressure when they blitzed, did they maintain coverage well when they sacrificed the pass rush to have more men in coverage, did they play the ball well, did they prevent YAC?)
- weather, field conditions, crowd noise and other factors not mentioned above (the nice thing about having an “other” category is that it guarantees everything is covered! So, alignment of the planets, biorhythms, and concern over the “Fiscal Cliff” debate are all included here)
While I don’t believe it to be true in this case, it’s important to note that Flacco’s effectiveness could be more than 100% of the 85-yard difference from his averages.
In this particular case, as could be expected to be true in any case where the deviation is that large, I would say three of the factors played against the Ravens:
- Flacco was not particularly effective
- The other skill position players were below expectations (drops by Smith, Boldin) and the Ravens failed to impose their will on the Steelers with an offensive scheme (like using the no huddle effectively)
- The Steelers have an effective pass defense, even without Ike Taylor, and got pressure when needed.
Offsetting these factors is the fact that weather and crowd noise were optimal and should have resulted in significantly more effectiveness than in an average game.