Has your heart rate lowered yet? After several days to recover, fans across the nation are still in disbelief. For a week, all we got was an assembly of national broadcasts praising Peyton Manning and labeling him the “best QB in the playoffs.” Joe Flacco was supposed to crack on the big stage and again fall short. To Skip Bayless’ dismay, he didn’t. Joe Cool again out-dueled a Hall-of-Fame QB and proved all of his skeptics wrong.
We all know he did it, but how? How can a 5th year play-caller beat the ageless Peyton Manning in his own home? It all started with the offensive line.
It had been a brutal year coming into the playoffs for the Ravens’ front five. Whether it was up the middle or off the edge, Joe Flacco endured a year full of scrambling. Wild Card weekend brought a monumental change.
The staff decided to make a gutsy move and insert tackle Bryant McKinnie to protect Flacco’s blind side. This meant Michael Oher would make the transition to RT, a move that has paid huge dividends. Oher seems considerably more comfortable on the right side, and it showed on Saturday. Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller were shut out and Flacco spent almost the whole game on his own two feet – something he isn’t accustomed to.
Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele have handled the big guys in the middle with ease. They have provided the aging Matt Birk with assistance when needed, and held their own on one-on-one matchups. Heading into New England, they will face their biggest test with 330-lb Vince Wilfork.
Joe Flacco hasn’t taken one second of this performance for granted. He has used his assembly of weapons to shred up defenses like Denver’s. Whether it’s been a tight end, a wideout like Torrey Smith, or even Vonta Leach, Flacco has had the guys to get the job done.
Of course, things wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for OC Jim Caldwell. Caldwell has been Joe Flacco’s biggest boost and provided the confidence not only for Flacco, but the rest of the squad.
Compared to the previously implanted Cam Cameron scheme, Caldwell’s game plan has brought a new sense of urgency to an offense that had been thirsty for the long ball. Everyone knows you can’t win a game without taking chances. (well, Cam Cameron excluded…) With Flacco throwing grenades and picking apart a defense like Denver’s, I see no reason why the same won’t be done against New England.
Of course, you cannot have a successful air attack without an effective run game. The emergence of Bernard Pierce will be crucial in keeping the Pats off-balance.
If Jim Caldwell can construct a plan where Rice and Pierce consume the Pats, Flacco will have a clear path to victory.
This year will be different. No Billy Cundiff and no Lee Evans; this is the year.