Here we are. Just four quarters — sixty minutes — stand between the Ravens and the Super Bowl. The only difference this week compared to last week is the opponent. Houston? Check. New England, here we come.
The one constant that has yet to change is the the lambasting of Joe Flacco. For a guy who has gone to the playoffs in all four seasons, won a playoff game in all four seasons and is making his second trip to the AFC Championship game for the second time in four years, he takes an awful lot of criticism. And for what? Because he doesn’t put eye-popping stats? Because he isn’t in a system that uses four- and five-wide sets on a regular basis? Because he actually has a good running game to compliment him? Because he’s fortunate enough to play with such a stellar defense? I think it’s my first suggestion, the lack of eye-popping stats.
I wrote a blog last week defending Flacco because he hasn’t had anyone to throw to, really, in his first couples of years. Ozzie Newsome and company have done a great job of adding pieces to help elevate Flacco’s game. But, as I said, developing relationships with receivers is a lengthy task that doesn’t happen over night. Against Houston on Sunday, Flacco finished with 176 yards, went 14-for-27 and threw two touchdowns — the only touchdowns Baltimore scored all day. Yet, Flacco’s criticism is more prevalent than his fumanchu. The one stat everyone is gunning for is his completion percentage (51.8). So let’s discuss that.
Flacco’s stat line looks worse than it is because of some of his receivers. Ed Dickson dropped an easy pass yesterday. Torrey Smith dropped a far more difficult catch that him squarely in the hands. I think there were either four or five drops in total from Ravens receivers yesterday. Say both Dickson and Smith catch those passes, Flacco finishes with over 200 yards, 16-for-27 and a completion percentage of 59.2.
While most people are focused on his average numbers, they are overlooking the fact that Flacco didn’t turn the ball over once. Sure, there were some passing miscues. But want to know who else suffered from problems in the passing game? Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. I believe there were eight drops for Green Bay yesterday. You can be the greatest passer in the league (most regarded Rodgers as that guy this season) but if your receivers don’t catch the ball, there isn’t a thing you can do. So, yeah, Flacco’s numbers looked worse than he actually played, but that wasn’t entirely his fault. He threw two big touchdowns yesterday. He made the plays when it mattered and the stat line that meant the most (Ravens 20, Houston 13) favored the Ravens.
Oh, and by the way, Flacco was facing a furious pass rush and the second best defense in the league against Houston. The only time the Ravens will see something like that again would be in the Super Bowl against San Francisco, if it beats the Giants that is. New England’s defense is no where close to being the caliber of Houston’s. The Pats lack mostly everything on defense, but that’s not to say Flacco and the offense will rack up 400+ yards of offense. They should, however, have an easier time with New England’s defense than Houston’s.
This is the second time in a week that I’m defending Flacco for a different reason. But if he can get a little more help from his receivers, make some plays and protect the football, I don’t see any reason why the Ravens shouldn’t win this Sunday as long as the defense comes ready to play and the ground game is working. The Ravens provide the biggest threat to New England and if they click in all three phases Sunday — offense, defense, special teams — the Ravens should find themselves in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.