I went to the Ravens-Browns game on Christmas Eve. I have not been to a Raven’s home game since 2000 when we spanked the Jets in the season finale. After that game, we went 4-0 in January and won the Super Bowl.
I’m not calling it a trend, but the NFL better watch out. The Ravens are undefeated in home games that I show up to, and win the Super Bowl 100% of the time when I come to the final home game of the season. If we win it all this year – I’m just saying Bisciotti should keep a nose-bleed seat open for me next December.
Going to M & T is such a wonderful experience. I love being in a sea of purple. The fans are rowdy and intelligent (though sometimes a little bitter). My favorite part was missing Ed Dickson’s touchdown because the entire upper deck saw a Steeler’s Fan looking for her seat. Her weapon of choice – a Hines Ward jersey. Classy. Who comes to a Ravens-Browns game in a Ward jersey!? I’m glad she was a lady, because otherwise I would have feared for her safety.
Back to the bitterness. The root of our collective discontent is the perceived woes of Joe Flacco. But I argue that Flacco is only one man. He is not Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers, yet. And he is not being given an opportunity to be so.
Flacco has the ability – easily the strongest arm in the league.
Flacco has the experience – 4 straight years in the playoffs.
Flacco can execute – with 4th quarter come-from-behind wins against the Steelers and Cardinals.
But the Baltimore Ravens are not calling his number to lead the team. They can’t as long as Ray and Ed are here. Ray Lewis defines the entire city of Baltimore along with the Ravens franchise. His presence dictates the offense too. In the beginning of the year, there were games where the offense’s game plan was to go score points and attack through the air. But the moment that didn’t work, there was a public outcry among players and fans that we aren’t running the ball enough. Please. Ray Rice was getting touches even if they were receptions (he leads the league in total yards). The reason we lost in Seattle was David Reed’s fumbles.
Again the issue is the team (and town) identifies with a 3-phase football strategy. Controlling time of possession with a running game, using special teams to win field position, and dominate with defense.
Deviation from this blueprint is not permitted. When the Ravens tried to become an offensive minded passing team – with a pressure defense that creates sacks and turnovers, we lost a couple of games. No one was willing to stay that course and allow the team to grow into itself, the front office, locker room, coaches, and town want to win NOW.
On Christmas Eve fans were booing in the second half. But the team was doing what we asked of it; it is hard to play mistake free football in all 3 phases every week. Analyst Eric Mangini says that most games in the NFL are lost not won. The Ravens style over the last 6 weeks has felt like the Ravens of old – don’t lose the game. An 11-4 record speaks for itself, but that style does not work against a quality opponent who is firing on all cylinders, like the San Diego Chargers.
Every year the playoffs are won by the team playing the best football – the team that gets hot at the end of the season. The quality of opponents in January demands excellence, teams have to win those games outright. We have the talent, but quite frankly our style during the month of December is catching up with us. The Ravens have one game to kick it into high gear before the playoffs start.
Hopefully, they start attacking their opponent on both sides of the ball. And not just attack, but confuse their opponent – get them off balance mentally while we continue to dominate them physically.
We need Flacco to execute this plan. However, there seems to be a loud minority (at least I hope it’s a minority) who don’t like Flacco. Watching the game live, I was impressed by No. 5 even though on paper (or tv) it looked like he had a subpar performance.
We asked him to be a game manager on Sunday. Hit 3rd downs and throw deep to keep them honest. It’s hard to be efficient on third down when receivers constantly drop the ball. As for deep balls, his first play of the game he threw the ball close to 70 yards in the air and it hit Torrey Smith’s hands.
When Flacco looks bad there is usually a reason. He dumps off to Rice because the receivers aren’t open. He’s late on timing routes because the line is porous. On the Lee Evans interception, Flacco’s timing was interrupted while he avoided the rush – then he tried to make a play. He read the defense correctly throwing at a one-on-one where his man had the advantage. With a good pocket, he would have stuck that throw.
Flacco is much better this year at extending plays and moving in the pocket (not great but better). Given time we know that he is a (self-proclaimed), “Gunslinger.” Dude can fire the ball. All this garbage about needing to run the ball to get the offensive lineman into a rhythm, falls on deaf ears. How about you block the man in front of you? Scheme the protection to funnel edge rushers past Flacco and have the interrior lineman seal to allow Flacco room to step into his throws.
It’s worth noting that two weeks ago on SNF, Chris Collinsworth revealed the Ravens removed 7 step drops because McKinney can’t handle speed rushers. That combined with the interior lineman not giving Flacco a flat pocket to step into makes it hard for this offense to work.
Nevermind that Flacco is throwing to two second year tight ends (who are not being utilized properly), has three rookie wide receivers on the team, and both veteran receivers have been hurt this year. Sounds pretty hard to create rapport and even harder to have option routes or man vs zone coverage read-options between receivers and quarterback. Flacco doesn’t complain. He has his teammates backs and always says it’s up to him to put the ball on his guys.
Cam Cameron’s offense might be the biggest problem. There is an old interview with Flacco from last season in which he discusses his ability to audible. Sure he can kill plays and switch to more favorable options, but he can’t call plays by the seat of his pants. The call comes in and some plays you have to run. Apparently, Cameron’s plays are designed to beat multiple defensive looks so there is not much need to audible. Certain plays are called in which Flacco can check based on the front he sees. Give me a break. My 4 year old nephew runs a more sophisticated offensive scheme on Madden.
http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2011/01/05/joe-flacco-calls-audibles/ (start ~1 min)
If Cameron’s offense is not geared to take the training wheels off of Flacco then maybe it’s time for Cameron to go. The speed of the game has slowed for Flacco, but he has not been given the mental tools to bend the game to his will like the top 5 quarterbacks in the league. He is told to run and execute the play. We hear that PR speak from other offensive players like Ray Rice – something to the effect of, “it doesn’t matter what play is called, we just have to execute.”
I don’t know about you but I’m sick of trying to execute. I’m sick of grinding. I’m ready to dominate. Flacco could be one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but it’s time to build around him, give him offensive lineman who are good pass blockers, and an offensive coordinator who wants to work with Flacco to become great. There is a reason Flacco doesn’t kill himself watching game film and rarely stands on the sidelines with Cameron discussing scheme, game photos, and defensive weaknesses – it’s not on him to mentally beat his opponent. Just make good decisions, run the play, and use that cannon.
Enough. If Flacco isn’t asked to play big in the playoffs we can not win the Super Bowl. If Flacco was on another team, he may be a phenom by now. If fans don’t like Flacco’s play, then it’s time for a new offensive scheme. If the Ravens don’t play like a top-10 offense against the Bengals and throughout January, then they will be unceremoniously knocked out of the playoffs again.
Flacco along with Coach Harbaugh is the best thing that has happened to Baltimore since Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden were drafted. We are a perennial power in the NFL making the playoffs in 4 straight years. Let’s support our guy. While this season continues lets all get Wacko for Flacco – grow a mustache – buy one at a costume store – call in to radio stations and demand more from coordinator Cam Cameron!
Please enjoy my homage to the power of Flacco’s stache (and Braveheart) as I support the best quarterback in Raven’s history.