Joe Flacco Is Feeling The Heat ... Here's Why


The sight of Joe Flacco frantically running from pressure or peeling himself off the turf has been all too common this fall.

According to ESPN stats, Flacco is the most-blitzed quarterback in the league. He's faced 145 blitzes compared to 144 for Washington's Robert Griffin III. Flacco has been sacked 20 times on those blitzes and has a 38.6 quarterback rating.

On the year, Flacco has been sacked 30 times, the third-most in the NFL. He was sacked 35 times last year and is on pace for more than 53 this season.

It leads to problems like the one last Sunday when Flacco threw his first interception of the game.

Ray Rice, who was praised for his pass blocking by Head Coach John Harbaugh, uncharacteristically missed his block on blitzing linebacker Vontaze Burfict and Flacco tried to step up through pressure to get a pass to wide open receiver Marlon Brown. But with two defenders wrapped around his legs, another hit his arm as he was trying to throw. The pass fluttered and was easily intercepted.

It's an example of the problem being larger than Flacco or the Ravens' offensive line, which has been under siege. The problem is the entire offense hasn't done enough to stop it.

"Listen, teams are coming after us a little bit and we're kind of letting them," Flacco said. "We're really not doing anything to combat it.  We haven't been good enough to stop it and do other things to get them out of it."

Three primary things help offenses combat pressure:

1)      Run the ball effectively
2)      Beat opponents through the air when they blitz
3)      Block blitzes effectively

To the first point, the Ravens haven't been able to run the ball all season, and are averaging a league-worst 2.8 yards per carry. Baltimore has tried to create more advantageous running situations by opening up the offense with more shotgun, three-wide sets, but opponents haven't taken the bait.

Opponents are still giving the Ravens a lot of run defense looks, which also puts extra defenders near the line of scrimmage and in position to blitz.

With defenses showing those looks, the Ravens have one- on-one matchups against their cornerbacks and generally only one safety in deep coverage. Hit a couple big gains or consistently complete passes, and defenses will ease off the gas pedal.

But the Ravens' passing offense hasn't done that either.

Flacco is completing 48.1 percent of his passes when under pressure, ranked 15th in the league. He's been good on the run over the past couple of games, including in overtime against Cincinnati, but his season-long accuracy percentage under pressure is 57.9, the ninth-lowest in the NFL.

Some of that is because the receivers aren't winning one-on-one matchups as often as they need to be. If receivers were open more often, Flacco would have a higher completion percentage. Other times, he hasn't had enough time to find receivers.

"We got to hit them with stuff that makes [blitzing] hurt," Flacco said. "OK, you're going to put guys up in there, you're going to double mug guys, and you're going to bring guys off the edge, you're going to play one-on-one coverage. We've got to make it hurt and we just haven't been good enough to really have teams feel the effect, or the negative effects, of them doing it.  It's been pretty positive for them and that's why they've continued to do it."

Flacco would have more time to throw, or at least wouldn't get sacked so often, if the offensive line did a better job picking up blitzes. He said the biggest issue has been that teams have been able to keep enough players near the line of scrimmage to cause confusion for the offensive line.

The line's confusion is in part due to inexperience together.

The Ravens have a first-year starter at center in Gino Gradkowski. Left tackle Eugene Monroe was brought in a quarter of the way through the year and now A.Q. Shipley has had to step in at left guard for Kelechi Osemele (back).

Harbaugh said the Ravens are doing a good job against four-man rushes.

After all, Flacco is under pressure only 36.3 percent of the time he drops back, ranking in the bottom half of the league. By comparison, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Terrelle Pryor have been under heat 46.6 percent of the time.

But the Ravens offensive line has to do better against pressures, Harbaugh said, which is a difficult task especially in three-wide sets that don't allow for extra blockers.

"I don't know if communication is the right word, but it's being on the same page and picking up the pressures when they make them complicated for you," Harbaugh said.

"When they attack a protection where you can't pick everybody up, then we've got to get the ball out to the right guy, and hopefully they're not covering that guy or there's a little room to throw to that guy. That's not always the case; the ball is not always out. Other times, we've got to get the back to the right spot. Other times we've got to get the line to the right spot. So, we are doing that many different times, but that's always a chess game in there."

The Ravens don't appear to be ready to make any more changes along the offensive line, so the group must grow together to slow opponents' pressure. Harbaugh is confident they will.

"I know we can do it," he said. "We've got a good scheme, we've got smart guys. We have backs who are willing to pick guys up and stick their face in there and block people. … That's something we've just got to keep working for."

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