FLACCO AND THE FINER POINTS
[Ravens24x7.com gets CompleteQB.com’s Chris Johnston’s take on Joe Flacco’s skills in a number of areas.]
Getting the Ravens’ Offense to the Line of Scrimmage
In terms of the speed with which Flacco leads his team from the huddle to the LOS, there is little about the Ravens or their Quarterback that is unique. It was back in the summer that we heard Quarterback Coach Jim Zorn mention his desire for Flacco to bring a “suddenness” to his pocket presence, but that is not currently part of Joe’s makeup in approaching the LOS. That said, there is nothing strategically about the Ravens that would indicate a team interested in speeding up the pace of the game. The Ravens rank in the top half on the NFL in rushing and rank 10th in the league in total defense. Baltimore hangs its hat on running the ball, playing sound defense, and using the game clock as its friend.
Flacco has made some improvements in this area, and seems to clearly understand each of the coverages he saw during 2010. A particular strength for Flacco this season has been Cover 3, which requires less precision in throwing and features underneath coverage defenders that originate closer to the Offensive interior.
Flacco has shown a tendency to lock into pre-conceived coverage beliefs. By this, I mean his throws will often be dictated by expected Defensive rotation – as opposed to what Defensive movements actually take place, post-snap. Teams that rotate “late” or disguise coverages can therefore sometimes present an issue for Flacco. Atlanta in Week 10, and even 2-win Carolina in Week 11, for example, gave Joe some problems with late movement (although Flacco played well, overall, in both of those games).
False Cadences to Get the Defense to Commit
Enticing opposing defenses to jump off-sides is not a skill Flacco has mastered yet. This ability is obviously valuable at slowing down a pass rush and reducing opponent blitzes, but my assessment is that Flacco has not dedicated a whole lot of focus on doing so.
Resetting Blocking Assignments
If this were a semester grade report, Flacco would get an “Incomplete”. A Quarterback can really only reach his potential as an on-field adjustment specialist when he operates within an Offense that allows and encourages him to do so consistently. Although I do not have first-hand knowledge of the Ravens’ system from the inside-out, it seems clear to me that Flacco is expected to manage – not create. Many of the Ravens’ pass protection packages already involve 7 and 8-man schemes, often leaving little room or need for audibling, especially given the frequency of run-heavy formations employed by Baltimore.
Ball Skills and Mechanics
The wisest of athletes understand the limitations that are placed on achievement by a failure to use great technique. Quarterback is football’s most complex position, and sound mechanics are its foundation. At times when Flacco has been bad in 2010, poor technique has sometimes been the cause. Examples:
1. Poor Throwing Alignment – Flacco is an unquestionably gifted passer. The velocity he generates in his throws, when needed, sometimes masks poor mechanics. For Flacco to reach his true potential as a pure passer (this is not something measured by wins and losses), he will need dedicated effort to becoming more mechanically consistent. A fundamentally sound thrower needs to have all front-side points in alignment prior to releasing the ball. In other words, more can go wrong with a pass’s delivery if a right-handed thrower’s left shoulder is facing the intended target, but the thrower’s left hip is open too far to the left. The kinetic chain of the throw is flawed from the outset, and velocity and hand control are not always able to overcome this mistake.
2. Ball Security – As was illustrated vs. the Steelers in Week 13, Flacco needs to move more consciously with the football in and out of the pocket. Allowance is given for the speed of Pittsburgh’s pass rush/blitzing, but turnovers such as Flacco’s fumble on December 5th cannot happen.
The concept of ball security also applies to the pass game, as well. Knowing the wise throws to make, given game and down & distance situations, speak to an NFL Quarterback’s development. A 2nd & 4 pass to Willis McGahee at the LOS midway through the 3rd Quarter vs. Carolina comes to mind: Flacco would have been wiser to throw the ball away while protecting a 14-point lead, rather than throwing to an “open”, but stationary, receiver.
3. Arm-Only Throws – Awkward throws, as I have stated previously, are a results-oriented theme. Peyton Manning frequently delivers WR screens or stop-route passes without adjusting his hips, feet, or shoulders properly, in the interest of the speediest possible completion. It almost always works. Flacco makes some awkward throws on stop routes, swing passes, and screens – and occasionally on deeper routes – and the risk is often significant. As long as Flacco completes these passes with no incidence of turnovers, I imagine Ravens’ fans will be satisfied. But from a coaching standpoint, my comfort level would be much higher if Joe could dedicate effort toward improved foot speed to allow some of these passes to be more securely delivered.