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Eisenberg: Might Not See Tyrod Wildcat Rest Of Season

Posted Nov 26, 2013

The element of surprise is gone. Plus, Wildcat more a knock to running game than Joe Flacco.

Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor was on the field for 12 of the Ravens’ 62 offensive snaps against the New York Jets Sunday – 19.3 percent of the time, according to my abacus. That isn’t a heavy dose of playing time, but because anything out of the ordinary involving quarterbacks in the NFL automatically becomes a huge deal and the Ravens have seldom used Taylor, there’s a lot of debate about what it means. 

Here are my thoughts: 

- It wasn’t a slap at starting quarterback Joe Flacco. 

I can see how Flacco might take it that way. The fact that the coaches used Taylor and the Wildcat did indicate a degree of dissatisfaction with the state of the offense Flacco runs. If you’re happy with how things are going, you don’t use trickery. 

But from listening to everyone’s comments and seeing how Taylor was deployed (one pass attempt), it seems the coaches weren’t worried about the entire offense, just the running game, which has struggled and figured to have an especially rough time against the Jets’ top-ranked defensive front. If that’s a slap at anyone, it’s the running backs and offensive line. 

The Ravens needed some production on the ground to give them a semblance of offensive balance. The hope was the Wildcat would inject surprise and uncertainty and lead to some gains, which it did several times in the first half. It wasn’t supposed to carry the offense, just help provide balance. 

- Taylor’s opportunity was strictly situational, not philosophical. 

It came out of the blue, but don’t take his dozen snaps as reflective of some momentous philosophical shift. The Ravens used the Wildcat because they desperately needed to win on Nov. 24, 2013, to keep their playoff hopes alive, and the coaches thought it would help them win that game, period. The fact that it did help doesn’t mean we’re going to start seeing it in every game. Shoot, we may not see it again all season. 

As I wrote after the game, I have no problem with using Taylor in the right situations. His quickness can be effective, the change of pace exciting. But now the element of surprise is gone; teams will prepare for it since the Ravens have shown it. And good defenses can handle it, no question. The Ravens had no problem with Miami’s back in the day. The Jets shut the door on it quickly Sunday. Taylor did less as the game unfolded. 

The reality is NFL defenses always prefer to see a backup take a snap rather than a starter, because that means the (presumably) more dangerous guy doesn’t have the ball. They’ll take as much of the less dangerous guy as any opponent is willing to give them. Makes you think twice, huh? 

- I had no problem with Flacco letting it be known after the game that he was pretty darn lukewarm about the whole idea. 

It was refreshing to see some honest emotion from him rather than a carefully orchestrated corporate response. And is anyone really surprised he doesn’t want to yield his spot? Few big-name quarterbacks do. Ben Roethlisberger was reportedly quite upset when the Steelers trotted out the Wildcat against the Ravens last month. 

Flacco has been up front about being accountable for the team’s fortunes now that he’s getting paid the big bucks. So he wants to be responsible for the winning and losing. That’s admirable. But having said that, I would urge him to understand it’s OK for a talented teammate to get crumbs of playing time now and then, provided the team benefits, as it did Sunday. 

- It’s true that since Flacco did little more than just stand there when he was split wide, the Ravens were playing 10 men on 11, hardly preferable. But you can’t send him out on a pass route because he might get creamed and knocked out of the game. That would be a silly way to lose a Super Bowl MVP. Maybe there’s another way to line him up in the Wildcat. 

On another subject, here’s a conspiracy theory alert: 

Every NFL team plays a Thursday night game in 2013, and in every case but one, the team playing on the road on Thursday is at home the previous Sunday, presumably leveling the playing field as much as possible. The exception is (drum roll, please) the Pittsburgh Steelers, who play in Baltimore Thursday night. They were not at Heinz Field Sunday. They played the Browns in Cleveland. Now they have to turn around and go back on the road again. Meanwhile, the Ravens are playing back-to-back home games on the same Sunday and Thursday. 

I’m not sure how loudly people in Pittsburgh are complaining, but if the roles were reversed, you can be sure the good citizens of Ravenstown would be raising a ruckus.

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