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I Can’t Defend Joe Flacco Any Longer

Since the University of Delaware product was drafted in 2008, I’ve been one of his staunchest defenders. I can’t defend him any longer.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

73-for-118 (61.9%), 601 passing yards, four touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 65.0. These are the stats of Joe Flacco through the first four games of the season. He has been absolutely poor this season. My defense of him has spanned nearly 10 seasons, but I think that the time to defend him is over.

I’ve been a huge supporter of Flacco since seeing him being taken with the 18th pick of the 2008 NFL Draft. I saw a tall, strong-armed quarterback that could throw a football through a brick wall. He could changing a Baltimore Ravens passing offense, that had been mediocre since Vinny Testaverde led the team at quarterback.

I also thought about the revolving door at the quarterback position that I had seen in the past. I saw the likes of Testaverde, Eric Zeier, Stoney Case, Scott Mitchell, Tony Banks, Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham, Jeff Blake, Chris Redman, Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright, Steve McNair and Troy Smith as the starting quarterbacks of Baltimore’s offense.

Then came Flacco.

Through Flacco’s first five seasons, he averaged a 60.5% completion rate, 3,527 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 7.1 yards per attempt. Included in those first five seasons were five consecutive playoff appearances, seeing the Baltimore Ravens advance at least past their first opponent.

One has to remember that the Ravens surrounded him with talent on the offensive side of the ball. He was given a good offensive line (Ben Grubbs, Marshal Yanda, Matt Birk, Kelechi Osemele, etc.), solid receivers (Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta, etc.) and the Vertical Offense that fit his skill set.

Flacco and Mason had a connection that Baltimore hadn’t seen previously. In Flacco’s first two seasons with the team, the connection between he and Mason produced two 1,000+ yard seasons. Mason was 34 and 35 during those seasons and yet he still played some of the better football of his life with Flacco as his quarterback.

Then from 2010-12, Flacco had a receiver in Boldin that was tough as nails. He could rely on the receiver to break down the middle of the field, while from 2011-14, Smith went deep and blew the top off of a defense. He also had a running back in Ray Rice, who could carve up a defense in multiple ways.

It was the staple of the Vertical Offense, an offense that puts receivers in motion so that defenses can be read easier, relying on mid-range to deep passes and a power running scheme. An offense like this allows younger quarterbacks with a strong arm to be protected and flourish.

Cam Cameron was Flacco’s offensive coordinator for the majority of his first five seasons. He and Flacco often got into arguments, but the offense was tailor-made for the quarterback. Despite not being able to go into the shotgun and no-huddle offense often, Flacco was fairly successful during Cameron’s tenure.

Cameron was fired after the 2012 Week 12 loss against the Washington Redskins and replaced with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. Flacco would go on to have an illustrious run to win the Super Bowl, which saw him throw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions during the playoffs. He would then win the Super Bowl MVP.

Next came the 2013 season.

Losing Boldin, Birk and a host of other players, Flacco struggled mightily. He had a completion percentage of 59%, passing for 3912 yards, with 19 touchdowns, 22 interceptions and a passer rating of 73.1. He would also miss the playoffs for the first time in his career.

He would then see an offseason of massive changes on the offensive line, the departure of his his 2008 NFL draftmate in Rice and the departure of Caldwell as his offensive coordinator.

Then Flacco’s redemption came.

The 29-year old quarterback seemed to get back on the right track. With Eugene Monroe, Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Yanda and Ricky Wagner on the offensive line, Steve Smith Sr. and Torrey Smith at receiver, Justin Forsett at running back and Owen Daniels at tight end, Flacco put up the best numbers of his career.

He had a season in which he had a 62.1% completion rate, 3,986 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 91.0, the highest of his career. The Ravens also returned to the playoffs, after missing them the previous season. Flacco had a completion percentage of 62.2%, passing for 551 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 100.7.

There is just one problem, Flacco hasn’t returned to the playoffs since.

He has had five different offensive coordinators through the course of his career. Two of those offensive coordinators have been fired and the other two have gone onto head coaching positions. The main issue with those offensive coordinators: the West Coast Offense.

The West Coast Offense is based on short passes to open up the deep passing game and a zone-blocking running scheme. Under Gary Kubiak as his offensive coordination in 2014, Flacco was terrific. However, it was becuase Kubiak used Flacco’s deep passing ability within the framework of the West Coast Offense and they had veterans in Smith Sr., Daniels and others that understood the intricacies of the offense.

Since Kubiak left to coach the Denver Broncos in 2015, Flacco has had a completion percentage of 64.4%, passed for 7,709 yards, thrown 38 touchdowns, 33 interceptions and had a passer rating of 81.6. The Flacco that we knew once upon a time is now gone and doesn’t throw the ball further than seven yards much anymore. Marc Trestman (offensive coordinator from 2015-16) and Mary Mornhinweg (2016-present) haven’t held him accountable.

Baltimore Ravens v Denver Broncos
When things began to really turn sour for Joe Flacco, the 2015 season.
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Flacco was never really cut out to run this offense, but if you are paid the type of money that he is making, you should flourish. To be fair he has also seen his offensive line turn to mush, he has had his fair share of injuries and watched Baltimore neglect the offensive side of the ball during the draft, especially at receiver (Breshad Perriman was the last receiver drafted in the first round by Baltimore, in 2015).

Honestly, one has to look at Flacco’s follies. It’s something that sticks out to me immediately and it’s that Flacco makes poor decisions each time that he goes onto the field. This isn’t true just now, when the Ravens are bad. This was true back when Baltimore was at its pinnacle of talent on both sides of the football during Flacco’s career.

One quote that sticks out to me about Flacco is what Ed Reed had to say about him in 2012, after a divisional round win against the Houston Texans. The future Hall of Fame safety ripped into Flacco, although the Ravens still won the game.

“He can’t play like that,” Reed said of Flacco. “One specific play that sticks out to me was when Ray Rice came out and got pushed out of the backfield and (Flacco) still threw him the ball and he had Torrey Smith on the outside. I can say that sitting on the sideline or sitting in the stands. You don’t know what someone else is seeing.”

Making good throws is all about being able to square your body with receivers. Routinely this season, Flacco has gone back to his poor habits of throwing off of his back foot or making a horrendous read down the field. He’s also under thrown the ball and that shows a lack of preparation.

Maybe it’s the time off from the back injury, but it’s something that we’ve seen before. It’s just magnified now with the injuries on the offensive line. You would think that he would get rid of the ball quicker when his offensive line collapses, but he just doesn’t. He can’t sense the pressure, he can’t throw the ball away when he’s obviously about to get sacked, he just can’t hit his receivers in the hands with the football.

He’s just bad. He’s been bad for three seasons now and other teams would’ve attempted to replace him or bench him because of it. But the Ravens didn’t draft his heir apparent or sign a new quarterback that would have allowed him to sit and work his way back from his back injury. Now they are stuck with Flacco, who currently looks like a glorified J.P Losman.

Yes you could blame the injuries on the offensive line, the offensive coordinator, or even Ozzie Newsome’s neglect of the offense for Flacco’s poor play. Ultimately, Flacco’s play lays squarely upon himself. He has to play better if Baltimore has any chance of getting better.

But from now on, I just can’t defend him. I’ve given him excuse after excuse, despite how poorly he’s played, constantly blaming it on others. I got excited with the fact that Baltimore finally had a quarterback that was decent. That decent quarterback is now gone and been replaced with a body double, a shell of his former self.

It’s been time to step up for years and be a leader, but he just hasn’t done that. I just can’t defend his horrid stats anymore.