Joe Flacco Named PFF's QB of the Week … How He and Offense Can Replicate It
Quarterback Joe Flacco can go ahead and eat another "W" because he was just named Pro Football Focus' (PFF) quarterback of the week.
After struggling for most of the season, Flacco played his best game of the year in a 44-20 victory over the Detroit Lions. He threw for a season-high 269 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
If it weren't for four drops by receivers, Flacco would've eclipsed 300 yards. That's why his "elite PFF stat" of adjusted completion percentage (accounting for drops, throwaways and spikes) was an impressive 86.7 percent.
"Joe Flacco had by far his best game of the season against the Detroit Lions, looking like the quarterback that led the Ravens to the Super Bowl for the first time in years," wrote PFF's Sam Monson. "Flacco made very few errors in the game, and was kept clean for all but seven dropbacks, completing 72.4 percent of his passes from a clean pocket and racking up a passer rating of 120.0 on those attempts."
Flacco looked comfortable in the pocket Sunday, and outside of an early misfire to wide receiver Mike Wallace, Flacco was mostly accurate all day. The big play of the day was Flacco's 66-yarder to Wallace, but his best throw may have been the 23-yard back-shoulder connection to Wallace as he was being hit.
For the first time this season, it was Flacco and the offense that needed to carry the team to victory.
After cornerback Jimmy Smith went down with an Achilles tear, the defense allowed Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to complete 20 consecutive passes. Detroit scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions in the second half, but Flacco and the offense responded with 17 points in the fourth quarter.
"If the Ravens could get this Flacco down the stretch they will become a formidable force in the AFC's playoff push," wrote Monson.
That's the biggest question of the week: Can Flacco and the offense replicate this performance? (We dive deeper into that in the next section.)
Flacco wasn't the only Raven to make PFF's team of the week. Both Justin Tucker and Eric Weddle were the NFL's highest-graded players at their positions too.
Tucker was (once again) money all day, connecting on all three field-goal attempts from 38, 46 and 51 yards out.
Weddle was the safety of the week after scoring a pick-six and forcing a fumble that led to seven points six plays later. He almost had two more turnovers: an end-zone interception had he got both feet in bounds, and another pick at the end of game had rookie Marlon Humphrey not leapt in front.
"Eric Weddle caught as many passes (one) as he allowed receivers to catch when targeted," wrote Monson.
How Can Flacco and the Offense Replicate Sunday's Performance?
Flacco was quick to say after Sunday's big game that it won't mean much if the offense can't put up a repeat performance.
"All week you'll hear about the Ravens becoming that wild-card team nobody wants to face," wrote Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit. "You might even be reminded that John Harbaugh's 2012 club entered the playoffs at 10-6 before winning Super Bowl XLVII.
"That's fine, but if we're going to have this conversation, we need answer only one question: Do we believe Baltimore's offense can play as well in the final quarter of the season as it did Sunday against Detroit?"
After averaging 21 points per game all season, the offense can't suddenly be expected to put up 37 points each week. But it is fair to ask whether the unit can continue to replicate a chain-moving offense on a consistent basis.
Benoit reviewed the game tape and discovered Sunday's successful formula.
"We finally – finally! – saw a respectable output from this group, thanks to an approach that fit its personnel," he wrote. "It featured a successful first- and second-down passing game, with selective downfield shots out of running formations."
Several interesting points are made by Benoit there.
First, he said the approach better fit the offensive personnel.
Second, there was more aggressive play-calling on early downs, avoiding difficult third-down situations to convert. WNST's Luke Jones pointed out that Baltimore's first-down productivity was stellar. The offense averaged 7.7 yards on first down. It was 5.8 if you want to take out the 66-yarder, but I don't think you should because it highlights how the Ravens were more aggressive.
Speaking of the 66-yarder, that leads to Benoit's third point (which is related to the first). He said some downfield shots were taken out of running formations, which is what opposing defenses have been keying in on because of its success over the 32nd-ranked passing game.
"The highlight was a 66-yard play-action completion to Mike Wallace, where the speed-burning receiver aligned in the slot (which meant no press coverage) and ran a deep post against zone (which meant he faced safety Glover Quin instead of a corner)," wrote Benoit.
Other successful plays that came out of running formations included bootleg throws, a tight end screen to Nick Boyle, and a few red-zone, play-action balls in the flats.
"That's how you help an ailing aerial attack," wrote Benoit. "Playing with the lead that these tactics established, Baltimore in the second half lined up in those same run looks and actually did run the ball, with increasing success."
"Marty Mornhinweg deserves credit for mixing up tendencies to help keep the offense on schedule," Jones added.
It all brings us back to the original question: Can it be replicated?
Benoit says the formula can be, but he can't say for sure whether it will be.
"This formula is replicable on a weekly basis, which is why we've been wondering all season: Where the hell has it been?" Benoit wrote.
"If watching good offense on film is like reading a novel with a rich motif, watching Baltimore's offense has been like reading a string of unrelated tweets. … The Ravens face the Steelers next week and then finish up with the Colts, Bengals and Browns. On paper, with a defense like this, they should finish at least 10-6. But whether that can (a) actually happen, and (b) even matter when this team makes the postseason depends on Flacco and the [offensive] side of the ball."
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rob Gronkowski, Kiko Alonso Highlight Suspension Inconsistencies
When the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh for Sunday Night Football, they will clash with a Steelers team without two key players.
Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier is still in a Cincinnati hospital after suffering a back injury Monday night, and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has been suspended for an illegal hit on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and taunting him afterwards.
It's a major development as the Ravens look for their first win over a surefire playoff-bound opponent while dealing with their own major loss of their top cornerback.
Shazier's absence isn't a surprise given the severity of his injury, but the football world was surprised to see Smith-Schuster suspended for his hit. Well, a more accurate statement would be that they're surprised by the inconsistencies in suspensions this year.
Cameron DaSilva put together a string of 14 video tweets, that became a "Twitter moment," of incidents that players were either suspended and/or fined for. The purpose was to highlight some of the inconsistencies the league has shown in its punishments. Two of those tweets included fouls against Ravens.
It showed Flacco being rammed in the head by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso, who knocked off Flacco's helmet and left him with a concussion. It also showed Dolphins defensive line Ndamukong Suh putting his hand on quarterback Ryan Mallett's neck and pushing him. Neither Dolphin was suspended, but Alonso was fined.
The string of tweets also showed Rob Gronkowski with an absolutely ugly and unnecessary hit to the back of the head of a Bills defender, who was face down on the ground and the whistle already blown.
"If [George] Iloka's hit on Antonio Brown was suspension-worthy, why was Darian Stewart only fined a week earlier for leveling Amari Cooper (who remains in the concussion protocol, by the way)?" asked SI's Jacob Feldman. "And Smith-Schuster ought to argue that his penalty be no stiffer than the one Packers tight end Richard Rodgers got for seemingly aiming directly for Steelers safety Sean Davis's head on a crackback block during Week 12. Plus, were either Iloka or Smith-Schuster's wrongdoings truly as egregious as Gronkowski's?
"What's going on here? Clearly, the NFL is deprioritizing consistency in the name of player safety. That's probably the right call. Parents aren't barring their kids from playing football due to the league's punishment flow chart anytime soon. So fans ought to accept the new reality. Their favorite player could be made the next example."