The “In Thing” right now is once again the debate over whether or not Joe Flacco is “Elite.”It’s understandable that it’s been brought back to the forefront given his play in the postseason to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Make no mistake about it, that’s exactly what he has done. He’s played better in the postseason than we’ve seen him do before, making big plays and limiting mistakes on the road to New Orleans.
Sometimes however, it’s not just about the quarterback. Sometimes it’s worth taking a step back and appreciating how good a job a front office and coaching staff have done of assembling talent around a quarterback, allowing him to flourish.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
While the debate on Flacco’s ability has, and will continue to go on for some time, the one thing nobody has ever been able to question is the strength of his arm. Guilty at times of overthrowing receivers, Flacco has gotten a better handle on his deep ball this postseason, throwing four touchdowns on passes 20 yards or more downfield.
And when you’ve got a quarterback to can throw the ball as far as Flacco can, you need to supply him with the deep threats capable of blowing the top off of any defense in the league.
That’s exactly what the Ravens have in Torrey Smith. In the regular season, only six wide receivers had more yards on plays where the ball travelled at least 20 yards in the air than Smith, who added to his regular season total of 425 with another 161 yards in three playoff games. Including the playoffs, Flacco has hit Smith for seven touchdowns on deep passes, more than any other receiver in the league.
And then you have a guy like Jacoby Jones, who might not see the field as much as Smith, but as evidenced by the Mile High Miracle or Prayer in Thin Air, is just as capable of producing a big play when the ball is thrown to him.
Rounding out the top three receivers on the roster is Anquan Boldin, who dropped just two passes from the 67 catchable balls thrown his way in the 2012 regular season cementing his status as the top receiver on the roster. What makes Boldin so important to what the Ravens do offensively is his ability to pick up yards over the middle and from the slot.
In the AFC Championship against the Patriots, with the wind causing problems for Flacco’s deep ball, it was Boldin who took the game over from the slot, giving the Patriots fits all throughout the second half.
It’s not just Boldin who gets it done from the slot however, with tight end Dennis Pitta continuing to emerge as one of the most underrated talents in the league. Flacco has targeted Pitta on 23% of his routes run from the slot, resulting in 39 receptions for 451 yards and six touchdowns.
Strong Running Game
Making things even better is that this is probably the best backfield the Ravens have had in team history. Ray Rice is one of the best all around talents in the league, with 32 missed tackles forced from 318 touches on offense in the regular season. A constant safety valve for Flacco when things break down, we’ve seen him pick up more first downs from dump offs on third down than just the much publicised “Hey Diddle Diddle, Ray Rice Up the Middle” play against San Diego.
Rice alone doesn’t make up the backfield however, with the All-Pro full back Vonta Leach leading the way for both he and rookie Bernard Pierce. Pierce has been a revelation for the Ravens, improving more and more as the season has gone on. Forcing 25 missed tackles from just 115 touches, and averaging 3.48 after contact per carry, few running backs in the league have done more beyond the work of their blockers on a by play basis than him.
Flacco is a huge part of the Ravens success, and the team wouldn’t be getting ready for the Super Bowl were it not for his fantastic postseason. But, as you sit down to debate with a co-worker or family member over how good he really is, take a moment to appreciate the an offense that is loaded with talent.
Stats courtesy of http://www.profootballfocus.com