Why did Joe Flacco’s progress stall?

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As an unabashed Joe Flacco supporter for the past four-plus years, this piece pains me to write. I’ve always been the guy defending Joe until I’m blue in the face – “not only does the guy win,” I’d say, “but he puts up the numbers too!”

His detractors would go on about how Joe doesn’t pass the “eye test,” which was laughable to me. I’d guess that about 98% of fans (and I count myself in this group) are in no way qualified to subjectively judge NFL quarterback play by using the “eye test.”

If you keep the judgements objective, what else can you ask for from a quarterback? Wins. Numbers. Joe Flacco has both.

Or, he did.

While the wins are still there – the Ravens are 9-3 after all – Joe’s individual progression seems to have completely stalled, and his numbers have taken quite a hit over the past calendar year or so.

I charted Flacco’s quarterback rating for each regular season game of his career up through Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh. In the interest of time, I didn’t do all of the math required to come up with Joe’s exact cumulative QB rating after each game of his career, but rather just averaged his QB ratings for each game – this gives us a rough indicator of Flacco’s progress as a passer throughout his career.

While the results were not surprising to any who have watched the Ravens as we have, they are still disconcerting.

(Remember, this is a rough estimate – my system gives me a composite QB rating of 87.0 for Joe to this point in his career; according to NFL.com, his career passer rating right this moment is 85.8. We’re close.)

JOE FLACCO CUMULATIVE PASSER RATING BY GAME

As you can see in the chart, Joe showed marked progress through the first several years of his career. Of course the ups-and-downs will be larger on the left side of the chart because of the smaller sample size, but overall, there was no arguing that he was getting better.

Remember, back in 2010, only Tom Brady had a better passer rating than Joe after Week 4. It was in 2010 that we were all convinced that Joe had “turned the corner.”

Look at that gorgeous upward trend in 2010. That’s powerful stuff, man.

In his first game of 2011, he came out and torched the Pittsburgh Steelers, putting up a single-game passer rating of 117.6.

Since then, it’s been all downhill.

Joe’s cumulative passer rating, after steadily increasing through the first game of 2011, then enters the slow decline into which we’ve seen it wallow for the past 27 games or so.

On 105.7 The Fan, former Redskins GM Vinny Cerrato calls any game where the QB puts up a passer rating of 74.9 or lower a “clunker.”

Based on that measurement, here are the number of “clunkers” Joe has put up by year:

2008: 7/16 (44%)

2009: 4/16 (25%)

2010: 3/16 (19%)

2011: 7/16 (44%)

2012: 4/12 (33%)

Let’s go opposite of clunkers – how many games in each season did Joe put up passer ratings of 100+?

2008: 5/16 (31%)

2009: 6/16 (38%)

2010: 7/16 (44%)

2011: 6/16 (38%)

2012: 4/12 (33%)

Sure, they may be arbitrary numbers to choose, but the fact remains that Joe is again trending in the wrong direction, on both counts.

Why did Joe seemingly peak in 2010?

Could it because that was the last year that his favorite target and safety blanket, Derrick Mason, was on the team?

Was it because the Ravens didn’t have a real “deep threat” wideout on that team, so Joe made more safe and easy passes, thus inflating his passer rating?

Or was it simply that the offense was more balanced during his first few years, and as a result his true character as a solid complementary player – rather than an “elite” game-changer – was allowed to shine?

Whatever it was, it’s disappointing that his progress seems to have devolved into regression.

With the team facing a huge financial decision regarding Flacco this coming offseason, it’s troublesome for Ravens fans to see that their quarterback seems to have hit his ceiling (and bounced back down a bit after doing so).

While plenty – myself included – believe that a heavy portion of the blame needs to be placed on both the head coach and the offensive coordinator (petitions to fire Cam are now popping up on the internet) for the stagnant offense, why did the front office allow the situation to get to this point?

Regardless of whether or not the team had made the playoffs for four consecutive seasons (or whether or not they were a dropped pass away from the Super Bowl), it was obvious looking at the above data that Flacco had gone as far as he was going to go under the tutelage of Cam Cameron.

The Ravens would have been wise to give themselves at least one year to observe Joe sans Cam before his contract situation could be pushed off no more.

Now they find themselves preparing for negotiations where Joe and his agent will be asking for Top 10 QB money, though his play over the past two seasons hardly seems to justify it.

Here’s hoping Joe turns things around and puts up big numbers and three or four more wins down the stretch. I’d be as happy as anybody to see that because to be quite honest, putting this together depressed me a bit.

Wacko for Flac….ugh.

Come on, Joe. Get it together.

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