The Ravens vertical passing game has been superb through the first quarter of the season, and it’s a big reason quarterback
"[The Ravens] might be the best vertical team in the league,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock during Thursday night’s matchup against the Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens signal-caller ranks third in the NFL in total passing yards, and he is connecting on long passes with more consistency than ever.
"Having guys on the outside that can do it,” Flacco said when asked about the key to success. "We have that and so far I’ve been able to hit on a few of them.”
Flacco has hit on more than "a few."
He leads the NFL in completions (14) of at least 25 yards and he’s connecting on these passes at a more consistent rate than past years. Flacco has completed 39.4 percent of passes beyond 20 yards this year; he completed 28.4 percent last season, according to the statistical analysis website Pro Football Focus.
He’s also attempting more long passes. Flacco is on pace to attempt 132 passes of at least 20 yards, compared to 88 attempts in all 18 games last season.
Those big plays have paid dividends for the Ravens, who currently rank second in the NFL in total yardage.
"We have our rhythm and our chemistry down, and when you have everyone on the same page, it makes it easy, fluent,” Jones said.
With Flacco at the helm, the Ravens are built for a vertical passing attack. He has one of the best arms in the game, but more importantly, he’s willing to take chances.
"It’s not only his arm strength, it’s the confidence he has for us,” Jones said. "He takes his shots. He throws the ball downfield, give us a shot at a jump-ball to go up and make a play. I love that as a receiver. If a quarterback has that kind of confidence in you, then you can’t do anything but love it.”
"You love it,” Smith added. "That’s what you want, someone to give you a chance to change the game. Joe is definitely bold, he’s take chances, even when most people think he shouldn’t, and most of the time it works out.”
Flacco is quick to give credit to his receivers.
Smith and Jones both have the speed to get deep on defenders, but their ability to make catches in traffic is the key in Flacco’s mind.
"Not only the speed, it’s the athleticism and the ability they have at the wide receiver position,” Flacco said. "If you give them an opportunity to make a play, most of the time they are going to come down and make the play.”
When the Ravens added Jones to the roster this offseason, his speed was a big part of the attraction. He gave the Ravens a vertical threat opposite of Smith that they didn’t have last year, creating a challenge for opposing defenses.
Once he arrived in Baltimore, the offense quickly made the vertical passing game a focus during the offseason workouts so that Flacco could develop a rhythm with his receivers.
"That’s being here in the offseason, all through full OTAs, being out there running with the quarterback and get your timing and chemistry together,” Jones said. "I saw it at the OTAs and minicamp. I was like, ‘Man, we can get the ball downfield.’”
"We’ve all been around for a while and Joe puts the ball on the money,” Smith added. "It’s on us to be on the same page.”
The other critical component is the protection that Flacco has. The young offensive line has held up through the first quarter of the season, giving Flacco opportunities to take chances down the field.
"When you get the ball downfield, there are a lot of things that go into it, and obviously it starts with protection,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "So, you just build from there."