Quarterback Joe Flacco has been up-and-down this season, and one specific area the Ravens would like to see him improve is his pocket awareness.
A lack of pocket presence has hurt Flacco and the Ravens in recent weeks, as he has four turnovers – two interceptions and two fumbles – in back-to-back losses. Flacco has eight fumbles on the season, and the Ravens want to see him do a better job of avoiding pressure in the pocket and also getting rid of the football quickly when opposing defenses blitz.
"Absolutely," Head Coach John Harbaugh said when asked if Flacco needs better pocket presence. "That's something that he's very much aware of. You turn the ball over, you put yourself in jeopardy. I don't care what position it is. So when you play that position and you're in the pocket, you need to protect that football. That's something that we need to be better at going down the stretch."
In Sunday's loss to the Redskins, Flacco turned the ball over twice in the second half, which both came on plays where he was pressured in the pocket.
He fumbled on a strip/sack and then threw an interception on back-to-back drives in the third quarter. CBS color commentator Rich Gannon made of point of saying during the game that Flacco was holding the ball too long and needed to get rid of it.
The interception came on third down after a nine-play drive that chewed up 4 minutes, 32 seconds.
The Ravens were in a third-and-6 situation, and they spread out the formation and went from the shotgun. The Redskins brought the blitz off the right side and Flacco tried to get a pass out to running back Ray Rice on the left side, but the ball was deflected at the line of scrimmage and picked off by linebacker London Fletcher.
"It was my fault," Flacco said about the interception. "I was getting Ray and they were in straight man. I tried to get Ray over there and it was my fault."
The interception cost the Ravens a chance to kick a field goal and extend their lead to a touchdown. The Redskins then capitalized on the mishap by driving down the field to kick a field goal, making the score 21-20.
The Redskins sent more pass rushers than the Ravens had in to block. In those situations, it's on the quarterback to recognize the blitz and then get the ball out of his hands.
"Those were five-man protection schemes, so they were bringing more guys than we could pick up," Harbaugh said. "[If] there's a free runner there, you've just got to get the ball out to the right guy on time."
The strip/sack was a different situation, as Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson beat left tackle Michael Oher off the edge and was able to hit the ball out of Flacco's hands as he wound up to throw. While Oher was beat, Flacco also didn't seem aware of the pressure, as he didn't shuffle or step up in the pocket to avoid the rush.
It was the second strip/sack in as many weeks, as Steelers linebacker James Harrison got to Flacco in a similar situation.
"The turnovers are always going to be an issue," Harbaugh said. "That is something we have done a good job with this year but we need to clean that up. It has been the issue the last two weeks."
The turnovers marred what would otherwise be an impressive day for Flacco on Sunday.
He finished 16-of-21 passing for 182 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He had a quarterback rating of 121.4, which is his second best of the year behind only the season-opening win against Cincinnati.
"I think Joe fights," Harbaugh said. "I think Joe fights like the rest of our players. I'm not going to obsess about anything. There's no grade I could give him right now. We'll go back and look at all that."
Flacco has been up-and-down in recent weeks, as turnovers against the Steelers and Redskins proved critical in the two losses. But he also led the Ravens offense to 28 points, including a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter that put the Ravens up by eight points with just 4:47 left to play.
"Joe did some great things out there that I saw, put up some points," Harbaugh said. "We all need to do better. We all need to find a way to finish the game better, that's the bottom line. Finish the game the way we need to finish the game to win."