The entire 2016 season has been marred by poor play from Joe Flacco. Even against mediocre defenses, he just doesn’t look like a player worth the amount of money that he is getting paid. While I do think that Joe was able to rebound and turn it on in the 2nd half of the Thursday night game against Cleveland, there were several plays in the 1st half that could have really gotten the momentum going early, had he made them.
A good example came during the very first offensive series. Frame 1 details a play at the 12:34 minute mark. It is 3rd and 6 and the offense lines up in shotgun formation with Kyle Juszczyk in the backfield. The yellow lines represent the routes ran and the purple dashed line represents where the location of the first down marker.
So, of the routes run, three were past the first down marker, leaving two check-down routes. The player to pay attention to in this play is Kamar Aiken, who is lined up wide right and is covered by Joe Haden. Haden is up on the line of scrimmage with the safety on that side stacked over the slot receiver. This is a good indication that they were in man coverage and were willing to leave Haden 1-on-1 with Aiken.
In Frame 2, it is clear to see that Aiken got a free release and Haden gave him the inside route, which was (in my opinion) a bit of an error by Haden considering the safety drives down on the underneath route (Frame 4). In addition, Cleveland only rushes four, leaving Flacco a clean pocket, which can be seen in Frame 3.
Due to Cleveland’s linebackers not taking a deep drop into their coverages, the safety (Ibraheim Campbell) reads the underneath route as the primary route. As can be seen in Frame 4, he drives down to meet the underneath receiver, leaving Haden on an island with Aiken.
I believe that the decision to try and connect with Aiken on a long pass was Flacco’s first error on this play. However, we all know that with single man coverage, Flacco is going to try and take a shot.
The underneath linebacker comes down onto the short route, leaving a huge hole in the middle of the field. Flacco just completely missed, or disregarded, this route. Not only would it have been an easy completion to a relatively wide-open guy, but it would have extended the drive as it was easily past the first down marker (Frame 5).
However, I can’t blame Flacco too much for wanting to go deep to Aiken. Aiken had Haden beat (Frame 6) and he had a ton of field to work with. Aiken was sprinting towards the middle of the field, and had Joe delivered an on-target pass that would have been a touchdown for sure.
The problem, seen in Frame 7, is that the ball wound up going to the outside of Aiken’s route, thereby causing him to slow down, re-route, and try to make a play on a badly thrown pass. This also allowed Haden to regain position and knock the ball away.
So, why was Flacco’s pass so off target? It’s the same reason that so many of his passes (especially deep passes) have been poor this year: his footwork is terrible. When Gary Kubiak was here, he was a stickler for perfection when it came to mechanics. I have a hard time thinking that Marty Mornhinweg isn’t coaching Joe on his footwork, but for some reason, Joe keeps falling back into bad habits with his footwork. This is clearly seen in Frame 8, which was just as he released the pass to Aiken.
The purple dashed line is indicative of Aiken’s route and where the ball path should have gone. Obviously, the ball (circled in yellow) wasn’t headed in that direction. Instead, the ball headed in the path of the red arrow. If you look closely at Flacco’s feet at the time of his release, you can see that his lead foot is angled to the right.
Any baseball or football coach will tell you that when you’re throwing the ball, your lead foot is often the biggest determinant of the ball’s path. There are certainly other components of this, such as where the ball is released, anticipation, and so on.
However, this is clear indication that Flacco’s fundamentals are off and, in my opinion, the main reason why his passes have been so inaccurate this year. Maybe it has to do with him regaining trust in his knee? Maybe he’s just not comfortable in the pocket right now because the offensive line has been pretty bad. I honestly cannot say.
What I will say is that this play could have set the tone early and for as experienced and expensive as Joe is, he should connect with Aiken on that play.