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Why Joe Flacco Isn't Getting Sacked


Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is walking a little taller these days.

The last time Flacco was sacked was in Week 1, when back-to-back sacks by the Bengals ended the Ravens' comeback bid as they were in the red zone.

Since then, Flacco hasn't been taken down – a streak of three games that isn't too common these days in the pass-happy NFL.

Last year, Flacco ended the season hobbling on one leg. He was sacked 48 times, the second-most in the NFL only behind Miami's Ryan Tannehill.

This year, he's had clean pockets to throw from, and is on pace to break 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his career. It's no coincidence.

"It's great. It's a good thing," Flacco said. "I think if we continue to do this with the consistency that we have over the course of the next 12 regular-season games, then we'll be happy with where we are at the end. That's for sure."

There are many reasons for why the pass protection has improved so dramatically this season: better offensive line play, fewer third-and-longs, quicker passes and the growth of young players (thanks in large part to Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo).

"There are so many things that are different [from last year], it would be too hard to put it in a nutshell, and do it justice," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We're doing things better across the board."

First of all, pass protection blocking should mostly be attributed to the blockers themselves.

The Ravens' four highest-rated offensive players, according to Pro Football Focus, are offensive linemen. Guard Kelechi Osemele ( 9.9) is leading the pack, followed by Marshal Yanda ( 8.4), right tackle Rick Wagner ( 5.7) and center Jeremy Zuttah ( 4.5).

Zuttah is the fourth-highest ranked center, per PFF, in the league. Osemele and Yanda are No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, at guard. Wagner is No. 6 at tackle.

Baltimore was missing Osemele for nine games last year due to season-ending back surgery. He was replaced by undersized converted center/guard A.Q. Shipley. The Ravens had Gino Gradkowski as their starting center.

"I'm just trying to play better than [Yanda] is, and he's doing the same thing he's always done being a Pro Bowl guard," Osemele said.

The Ravens' offensive linemen have improved under the tutelage of Castillo, who was in fans' crosshairs last year. But Castillo, who especially has a reputation for developing young offensive linemen for repeatedly stressing fundamentals, has groomed the group.

Wagner was a fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin in the 2013 draft. He's quickly become a very solid right tackle. Even James Hurst, the undrafted rookie out of North Carolina, stepped in adequately for injured Eugene Monroe (knee) in his first career start.

After watching Hurst last Sunday against Carolina, Monroe said he can't believe he wasn't drafted. Hurst chose the Ravens, in large part, because of Castillo.

"I owe a lot to him," Hurst said. "It's not just me, it's all the guys."

"We get mad every day at Juan going over the same stuff, doing the same drills over and over and putting in all that overtime," Osemele said with a smile. "But, honestly, it helps. I'd attribute it to muscle memory and guys just working hard every day and being consistent."

New Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak has also made life easier on his offensive line.

By establishing the run game, and getting good results, the Ravens haven't been in as many third-and-long situations. It's most difficult to pass block when facing a third-and-long. Since the opponent knows the offense must pass, defenders can sell out on getting to the quarterback.

Having a more balanced run-pass attack, and good play-action, means defenders have to hesitate more in figuring out what the Ravens are going to do.

"I'd say the biggest thing is we're staying on schedule," Yanda said. "It doesn't seem like we're getting in a lot of third-and-longs. It's going to happen sometimes, but Gary talks all the time about staying on schedule."

Kubiak's offense also stresses that Flacco get the ball out quickly. That's also because of running the ball and creating manageable third downs. It's also just part of Flacco's training now. He's taught to take quick steps, read with his feet, and get rid of the ball.

As such, Flacco has protected himself better.

Flacco has also done a good job thus far of picking up blitzes and getting rid of the ball. He still sometimes takes hits, as all quarterbacks do, but he's not taking sacks. Harbaugh pointed to one play in Cleveland where Flacco was able to hand the ball off to running back Justin Forsett to avoid a sack. It was a heads-up play.

"They take care of each other," Harbaugh said. "We're just doing a good job."

The offensive line will have probably it's toughest test of the year so far this week in Indianapolis. Not only do the Colts have a strong front seven, but they'll have the crowd behind them, making communication more difficult for Baltimore.

Communication will be the next hurdle, and Flacco said the Ravens will be prepared to use a silent count, especially when in the shotgun formation. Flacco also anticipates using it on third downs, particularly the first one of the game.

Flacco said he likes to play it safe and use the silent count, even though it may not always be necessary.

"I think my experience since I've been here is [to] be ready for every crowd to be pretty loud, and get used to it," Flacco said.

"You go everywhere, it's going to be loud," Harbaugh added. "It's our job to quiet them down."

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