Joe Flacco never seemed fully comfortable in the pocket during Sunday's rough outing against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ravens quarterback took a season-high four sacks and 10 hits as the Steelers brought pressure throughout the night. The pressure led to miscues and a sluggish offense, and the Ravens stressed after the game that they have to capitalize when teams bring the blitz.
"We have to make people pay for it – run and pass," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "That's something that's going to be important for us to do."
Against the Steelers, Flacco completed 56.5 percent of his passes (13-of-23) when blitzed, compared to 77.3 percent (17-of-22) when not blitzed, according to Pro Football Focus. Both of his touchdowns, however, came when the Steelers blitzed.
"Last week, obviously, they got to us a little bit," Flacco said. "But for the most part, it wasn't guys that were coming straight free. It was just a good job by them. We could have done a better job on some of them."
Flacco and the offense have been up-and-down, which, in part, is a symptom of not handling the blitz effectively.
According to StatsPass, Flacco has been blitzed on 108 passing attempts. He has completed 58.3 percent of those passes for 913 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. When teams don't blitz, Flacco has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns and four interceptions.
"I feel like we've been doing pretty well against [the blitz]," Flacco said. "In this offense, for the most part, you have to find at least a spot to get the ball out to. And sometimes it's going to be for a big play and sometimes it's going to be a smart play, which is a throwaway. It just depends on the situation, and each of those is individual."
In order to offset the blitz and keep teams from bringing the pressure, the offensive line has to pick up the additional rushers and the quarterback has to be in synch with the receivers. The blitz will often force quarterbacks to find the hot receiver and get rid of the ball quickly.
The issues against the Steelers varied from play-to-play.
"It was a number of things," Harbaugh said. "We got beat one-on-one a couple times; once or twice we didn't get to the hot receiver; once or twice we didn't make a throw or a catch, or we were safe with the ball, which sometimes you have to do. It's collective."
Pressure can often force rushed decisions by the quarterback, leading to miscues or turnovers. The Ravens were one of the better teams at protecting the ball early in the season, but they have hurt themselves with fumbles and interceptions recently.
After throwing just three interceptions in his first six games, Flacco has five in the last three weeks. The miscues have proved critical in the back-to-back losses.
Flacco opened the second half against the Bengals with interceptions on the first two drives to put the Ravens in a two-score deficit. Last week against Pittsburgh, Flacco followed up a fumble by running back Lorenzo Taliaferro with an interception of his own to set up a Steelers touchdown that gave them a lead they would never lose.
"It's been the last three games we've had a lot of turnovers ," Flacco said. "And we are going to be very tough to beat if we don't turn the ball over, and it's something we have to stop. But, at the same time, we have to stay aggressive. We have to go after it; we have to try to put points on the board; we have to try to stretch the field – all that stuff. But the biggest thing is holding each other accountable and going out there each week and during practice getting better and better at it."
Despite the recent struggles, the Ravens still rank in the NFL's top 10 in most offensive categories, including yards (370.7) and points (26.7) per game. The offense has been explosive at times – especially at home – and they have a big opportunity this week against the Titans.
"I think we're in a really good spot," Flacco said. "I think we've been playing, for the most part, really consistently all year. We've had a few turnovers the last couple of games. If we eliminate those, I think our consistency is still there. I think we are in a really good spot and I'm excited about getting after it the next half."