After leading his team to a Super Bowl victory and signing a lucrative offseason contract, it’s no surprise that Joe Flacco’s play has been under the microscope this season. Has he has asserted himself as a leader of the team? Is living up to his status as one of the highest-paid signal-callers in the league? Can he elevate his struggling offense and overcome the complete lack of a running game to make another postseason push?
So far, Flacco has looked about the same as any other year. While that’s not completely unexpected – and considering that the Ravens have proved in the past they can win games despite Flacco’s up-and-down performances, it’s not the end of the world – it’s not ideal.
But there’s one aspect of Flacco’s game that just doesn’t seem right this year: the deep ball.
Last season, Flacco was dominant on passes over 20 yards, completing 28 attempts for 918 yards with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions.
This year? 10 completions with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Not only has Flacco’s accuracy on passes downfield been wildly inconsistent, but his arm strength has seemingly taken a serious hit.
We first looked at Flacco’s accuracy on deep passes after the Pittsburgh game.
Let’s take a look at how Flacco struggled on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Much like the play in the link above, Flacco missed big time on an easy touchdown to Jacoby Jones. In fact this play is almost identical.
Flacco has Jones to his left, and the play is actually a flea flicker, which caught the Bengals defense off-guard.
After Flacco receives the ball back from running back Ray Rice, it looked like about as easy of a touchdown as he’ll get this season.
Flacco has the speedy Jones several yards past the Bengals defense, but soon after this point, Jones has to slow down his route because of another underthrown ball
Jones almost completely stops his route to try to come back to the ball, and luckily for the Ravens, Bengals safety Reggie Nelson mugged him (not unlike what happened in Pittsburgh, but this time it was called), which was the only thing that salvaged the play.
It was a windy day Sunday, and that could have been a factor. Still, Joe doesn’t get to use that excuse on this one. No NFL quarterback should underthrow a ball like that, especially with the clean pocket Flacco was given.
On another deep pass to Torrey Smith, Flacco’s inaccuracy and decision making got the best of him.
Smith lines up to Flacco’s right, with two Bengals defenders eyeing in on him.
Off the snap, Smith doesn’t get much separation, and at the point Flacco decides to throw to him, Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones are both wide open.
Flacco takes the shot at the deep ball to Smith, and the only way of completing this pass would have been pinpoint accuracy.
Instead, Flacco throws a ball that trails off to the right, forcing Smith to redirect his route, leading to another incompletion.
It appeared that the play was designed to go to Smith from the start, but based on how blanketed he was in coverage, there really was no chance of completing the pass.
On a throw late in the fourth quarter, it looked like both Flacco and Smith were at fault on an incompletion.
Flacco has Smith lined up on his left running a deep post to the middle of the end zone.
With another clean pocket, Flacco gets the throw off in plenty of time for an open Smith.
Here’s a better look at the separation Smith has when the ball is in the air:
Ideally, Smith would carry his route toward the middle of the end zone and catch the pass in stride.
Instead, he had to slow down, swerved his route a few times, and ultimately the Bengals defenders caught up.
The ball landed just out of Smith’s reach, and the drop was a missed opportunity on Baltimore’s part to close out the game in the fourth quarter.
Flacco, Smith or the swirling winds? It’s hard to tell for certain, but all three likely contributed.
Based on Smith’s last-second indecision on his route, the ball was probably knuckling in the air, but we’ll never really know.
Did you notice a theme, though, in the three plays? Flacco had a clean pocket. He also had a clean pocket in the play against the Steelers that was highlighted. That’s a rarity this year, and those opportunities can’t slip away.
Flacco has just looked “off” in general the past few games, and he may be playing through an injury. If he isn’t hurt, that probably looks worse for him, as his accuracy on all throws has been as bad in recent games as at any other point in his career.
Clean pocket, fast receivers open downfield, no touchdowns. Flacco’s inability to capitalize on prime scoring opportunities has been an overwhelming weak point of Baltimore’s offense this year. With the struggles the offense has had to put points on the board, missing on easy scoring opportunities down the stretch could be the difference between the Ravens participating in the playoffs for the sixth straight year, and watching them from the couch.