Legendary QBs Say They 'Feel Bad' for Joe Flacco as Season Takes Bleak Turn
Joe Flacco had leaky protection, little time, few weapons and no run game to lean on.
So, the Minnesota Vikings' fourth-ranked defense feasted.
Two legendary quarterbacks, who have two Super Bowls and six Pro Bowls between them, were witnessing it all from the CBS studios. They saw how outmatched the Ravens offense was against the fast, physical Vikings defense, and they hurt for the Ravens quarterback.
"I feel bad for Joe Flacco," Boomer Esiason, a retired 14-year NFL quarterback, said at halftime. "He's essentially out there by himself. The best offensive player for Baltimore is Justin Tucker."
Fellow analyst and former Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms added that Flacco's woes Sunday were a continuation from the previous week when he hit receivers with pinpoint accuracy, but two throws were still intercepted off drops and eventually turned into touchdowns the other way.
Out of the break, play-by-play commentator Greg Gumbel joined in the chorus, adding, "Joe Flacco has been under a lot of criticism and heat back in Baltimore for his play this year. Hard to blame him right now when you really got no one to throw to."
All three were clearly talking about Flacco missing four receivers: starter Jeremy Maclin (shoulder, ruled out just prior to the game), starter Mike Wallace (knocked out in the first quarter with a concussion), Breshad Perriman (concussion) and red-zone target Chris Matthews (thigh).
It left Flacco with three inexperienced receivers, and the one who was signed to the squad just four days before the game, Griff Whalen, led the group with four catches.
"The Ravens were left with one of the least talented NFL offenses in recent memory," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker. "The Ravens' collection of possession receivers, tight ends and running backs had no shot to create space against Pro Bowl-caliber players."
That's not even getting into the offensive line issues, which allowed a season-high five sacks. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), the line allowed another nine hurries. The website said right guard Jermaine Eluemunor was a "liability from the first snap to the last" by allowing a sack, two hurries and committing two penalties. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley gave up his first sack in four games and allowed three hurries.
"The problems elsewhere are severe enough that we haven't talked much about the offensive line in recent weeks," wrote Walker. "But the trip to Minnesota offered a reminder that Stanley might be the only long-term starter on the current unit. … [T]he blockers looked nearly as overmatched as the skill players."
The offense barely broke an 11-quarter streak of not scoring a touchdown when Flacco hit Moore for a 13-yard touchdown as time expired. Prior to that, as Esiason said, Tucker was the Ravens' biggest offensive threat, hitting field goals from 48, 57 and 47 yards.
"Did you expect much different?" asked The Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "If so, you shouldn't have. The Ravens' offense, which has been bad all year, wasn't going to find itself against one of the league's best and quickest defenses, especially with their top three receivers on the sideline."
While there was a lot of sympathy for Flacco in Minnesota, he isn't satisfied with his own play. He wasn't himself early in the year after missing training camp and the preseason with a back injury, and he said, "I sucked" after the home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ravens already had the second-worst passing offense coming into the game. After Sunday's 186-yard outing, the group is now dead last among the NFL's 32 teams. ESPN called his outing "futile."
"You can spend the next four days calling for Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to be fired or bemoaning the ongoing Flacco era," wrote Childs Walker. "But they're not magicians.
"Bad luck and poor drafting have left the Ravens without enough talented offensive players to compete. No short-term move will change that."
Season at a Crossroads After Losing Four of Last Five Games
Mathematically, the Ravens aren't close to being eliminated from the playoffs. More than half of the season remains, and Baltimore is two games out of the AFC North lead from the 5-2 Pittsburgh Steelers with a head-to-head matchup still to come.
But based off Baltimore losing the last four out of five games, and the play getting worse, not better, there are several analysts saying the season is close to slipping away.
"The Baltimore Ravens' season is spiraling downward, following the direction of their plummeting and painfully awful offense," wrote ESPN.
"This team looks broken and they now have another game in four days," added Zrebiec. "This season is circling down the drain quickly."
What's especially damaging to the hope in Baltimore is that when fans and analysts looked at the schedule, this stretch was supposed to be the string of winnable games against teams with questions at quarterback. Losing to rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky in his first road game and to No. 3 quarterback Case Keenum isn't the planned road to the postseason.
The Ravens may face the Miami Dolphins' No. 3 quarterback Thursday (see below), but that brings little comfort because Baltimore isn't defending well against the run. It is now the worst in the league, surrendering 232 rushing yards per game.
"[T]he Ravens defense continues to underachieve as well," wrote Zrebiec.
While outside linebacker Terrell Suggs agrees that the defense is not playing up to its potential (see next section), he isn't ready to give up hope.
"We're seven games in, we have nine left," he said. "Right now, we stink. You can all write it … but with the schedule going ahead, I still think we can do something magical. You all know what kind of team we are once we get into the show. We have an AFC home game on Thursday. You defend your home turf, everything can look up for you."
Terrell Suggs Disappointed: 'This Team is Built Around Defense'
With the offense digging deep into its depth chart, the Ravens knew they'd have to win the game with strong defense. The unit was solid, but not good enough to overcome deficiencies on the other side of the ball.
"Sunday's struggles wasted a solid effort by the Ravens defense, which limited Minnesota to one touchdown and six field goals," ESPN wrote. "But this defense has grown accustomed to the small margin for error provided by the Baltimore offense."
It's true that the defense has a small margin for error, but if you ask Suggs, that's not an excuse. He said that's the way the team was designed to win games, and the defense is underachieving, especially in the run game.
If you didn't get a chance to see Suggs' post-game locker room interview, you should definitely click play to the right.
It's raw, honest and showed a rare moment when the defensive leader was speechless.
"Excuse me, man. I'm sorry," Suggs said after searching for words to answer the first questions from the media. "It's disappointing and extremely frustrating, but you know, the team was built around the defense. We're not playing good football right now. I don't really have any answers for you.
"We don't have to be perfect, but we definitely have to play better than what we're doing."
Where is the Leakage Coming From in Rush Defense?
Even with the $50 million man, a term Brandon Williams' teammates use affectionately, back in the middle of the defense, the unit still dropped to No. 32 in league rankings.
Suggs said he was surprised to read last week that the unit was ranked so low, saying it's never been this bad in his 15 years in Baltimore.
So, what's the problem?
"It just seems like it's leakage. It's just little bleeding," Suggs said. "I don't think it's an Xs and Os thing. It's man for man, we've got to click and get our chemistry and play better together."
PFF pinpointed one spot of leakage.
"Much of the Ravens' struggles in run defense can be traced back to the play of [inside linebacker Patrick] Onwuasor," the website explained. "The second-year linebacker was hesitant snap-after-snap versus the run and couldn't quite make heads or tails of the Vikings rushing attack. He also missed two tackles on seven attempts."
PFF's Top Five Grades for Ravens
It's not surprising to see cornerback Brandon Carr at the top of the Ravens' highest graded players from Sunday. He made an impressive interception off a bobbled ball on the Vikings' first offensive play.
"This is the type of impact they were hoping for when they signed Carr from Dallas this offseason," PFF wrote. "He was targeted six times, allowed only three catches for 22 yards and snagged an early interception."
Here are the Ravens' top-graded players:
CB Brandon Carr: 84.5 overall grade
OLB Terrell Suggs: 83.4
DT Michael Pierce: 79.4
LG James Hurst: 79.3
CB Jimmy Smith: 77.8
Should Jaylen Hill Become the Primary Slot Corner?
Now that he's healthy, and had a strong performance against the Vikings, some are calling for undrafted rookie Jaylen Hill to become the primary slot cornerback.
Veteran Lardarius Webb moved to nickel back from his safety spot to help fill in after injuries took a toll.
"Webb had an up-and-down 2016 campaign at safety," wrote Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy. "He was released in the 2017 offseason due to his contract. Baltimore resigned him to be their backup safety. However, due to injuries in the secondary, he has been the teams primary slot cornerback. Opposing teams continue to target him and they are finding success in doing so. Hill was slowly taking over that position towards the end of the game, that trend should continue."
The Ravens could throw another player into the mix as Maurice Canady returned to practice last week and could be activated off injured reserve for next week's matchup against Tennessee Titans.
Ravens Will Face Another Team Beat Up at Quarterback Position
For the fourth week in a row, the Ravens will face either a backup or rookie quarterback when they host the Miami Dolphins on a short week Thursday night.
The Dolphins lost starter Ryan Tannehill for the year in training camp and lured Jay Cutler out of retirement to lead the offense. Cutler has surprised many by leading Miami to a 4-2 record, but he was knocked out of Sunday's game against the New York Jets with a chest/rib injury when his team was down by 14.
The Dolphins will have a decision to make after more tests are conducted on Cutler's chest, but according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Cutler suffered two cracked ribs and could be sidelined for two or three weeks.
Backup Matt Moore led the Dolphins to 17 fourth-quarter points for a 31-28 win over the New York Jets.
"If Cutler … had some damage that would need healing time, Moore would certainly play against the Ravens," wrote TheMMQB.com's Peter King. "But if Cutler is okay to play, who would [Head Coach Adam] Gase choose: Cutler, who'd led Miami to a puny average of 10.5 points per game in the four games prior to Sunday, or Moore, who brought a spark to the offense and led Miami to 17 points in the last 13 minutes of a game they looked to have no business winning."
With Miami's unsettled quarterback situation and playing on the road, the Ravens opened as 3.5-point favorites.
- Justin Tucker was named as one of Peter King's Special Teams Players of the Week for the second consecutive time. "Watching Tucker, it's an upset when he lines up for a 57-yard field goal and doesn't make it. He kicked one of those, and a 48-yarder. And a 47-yarder. In a game full of great kickers right now, Tucker's state of the art—and the best offensive weapon the feeble Ravens have." [TheMMQB.com]