When Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco threw into the end zone early in the game against the Cleveland Browns last week, fans remarked, "What was he looking at?" Some wondered if he hadn't seen the other guy sliding over and ultimately picked off the pass in the end zone, ending the Ravens initial threat at scoring?
The answers may be that yes, he indeed did see the open receiver and yes, he did see the Browns defensive back. Your immediate response would then be, "So why did he throw it into double coverage?" Flacco's answer? It wasn't double coverage when he saw the play developing.
The give-and-take could go on and on and on. However, one thing has become clear over the first four-plus years of Flacco's career. Regardless of his progression at reading defenses and his cannon of a arm that can make every throw that a QB needs to make to be successful in the NFL, he has certain physical traits that either cannot or will be difficult to change.
While these observations may be met with hostility, it is indisputable that they exist. What is absolutely debatable is whether or not he can overcome it and limit the damage it has caused at key points of the games. At this point in his fifth year, there is every indication that it will not prevent him from being a championship level QB in the league, certainly capable of leading his team to the Super Bowl.
However, it still exists.
One thing Flacco cannot change is that he is tall. At 6'6" and 245 pounds, no one will ever confuse Joe with a speedster. His is tall and lanky and slow afoot. He does have the ability to move in and around the pocket, roll-out and even take off for a gain every now and then. He will never be known as a scrambler, even though he did score on a 38-yard jaunt in his first game as a rookie in 2008.
His height and lankiness slow down his delivery, making what he sees at the moment of decision not necessarily what happens when the ball arrives. Regardless of the speed the ball comes out of his hand and the line that the rocket is delivered on, that extra split second or so is enough to change what he saw that appeared to be a hole in the coverage.
Fans only see the result of the play, which is different from what he saw behind the line of scrimmage at the time of the throw. The speed of the game is much faster down on the field that it appears to be in the stands and quarterbacks do not have the luxury of the same views that most fans enjoy.
A long slow delivery from a tall guy with long arms is tough to change or overcome. The rocket arms helps and can be enough to compensate for the long run. But on a game-by-game basis, you will continue to see what perhaps Joe does not see. A guy who who may have found an open hole in coverage might not remain open for long enough for even an arm like Joe's to get the ball into.
Is this an issue that will prevent Flacco from reaching the next level or become what many loosely call and "elite" QB? Not from what we've seen so far in 2012. Flacco's first four games of 2012 prove that he can be mentioned along with the best in the game and everyone has seen that he and his team continues to be competitive year after year.
At the same time, the issue remains and there will be times that balls will be thrown into coverage that may seem obvious in the slow motion replay but not necessarily obvious at the moment the decision to throw was made.