Prior to struggling a great deal against the Houston Texans on Sunday, Joe Flacco was having his most impressive season of an already accomplished career. He had thrown eight touchdowns compared to four interceptions and completed over 60 percent of his passes through the initial six games of the year.
However, it all came apart on Sunday. Flacco possessed the lowest QBR (overall quarterback rating) in the NFL for a single game in five seasons and averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt in a stunningly atrocious performance.
Overall, Flacco is completing just 50 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and four interceptions in three road games thus far this season. His quarterback rating in those three games is 55.8. This seems to indicate that Flacco is struggling away from home, which has been the case throughout his entire NFL career, at least in terms of statistics.
Outside of said stats, let's take a look at Flacco's mechanics and improvements over the course of his career.
It doesn't take a quarterback guru to understand that you have more accuracy and can get better zip on the ball when your legs are bent and you are not as upright. The difference between Flacco's stance in 2012 compared to 2009 is dramatic.
He goes into the motion with his legs supporting his body, utilizing lower body strength to correct the mechanical flaws. It seems that this progression started towards the end of the 2011 season and has continually improved since.
Flacco's back leg is bent and all the pressure is on his back foot, representing a traditional throwing motion. This enables him to get more zip on the ball and improve his accuracy on both the intermediate and downfield routes.
Now check out one of the most mechanically sound quarterbacks in the NFL and his motion pre-throw.
Peyton Manning's motion might be a little more upright, but as you can see his weight is on his back foot more than anything else. It seems to me that Flacco has studied the future Hall of Fame quarterback a great deal.
While some quarterbacks, most notably Aaron Rodgers, can get away with an over-the-top upright throwing motion, this didn't seem to work too well for Flacco early in his career. Those of us who rely heavily on statistics can obviously see that.
Progressions and Reads
The video you are about to see below is just one example of a young quarterback struggling early in his career. It just so happened that Flacco chose the worst possible time to make such an obvious mistake, the 2009 AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As you will see, he doesn't go to a second or third read and fails to actually scan the field before throwing a horrible interception against Pittsburgh. While this might not be a big deal at Delaware in college, it will cause major problems in the NFL.
Flacco has gotten much better going through his reads, but still lacks elite ability to look off receivers and find an open guy in other parts of the field. This was evident against the New England Patriots a few weeks back.
One read and Flacco telegraphs a pass that was eventually intercepted by Steve Gregory of the Patriots. It is one thing to make this mistake as a rookie, it is quite a different thing to make that same mistake in your fourth NFL season.
In fact, Flacco's play-action here leaves a lot to be desired. New England linebackers knew full well that he was going to throw the ball between the hashes, not hand it off to Ray Rice. When you have one of the best running backs in the NFL, you need to do a better job disguising the play and keeping the defense off balance. Flacco simply didn't do that here.
As you can see above, accuracy isn't a huge issue for Flacco. If he was more coy on the dropback and went through a progression or two, he would have had a much bigger window to throw the ball into. The only issue that Flacco has in terms of accuracy is down the field. He is solid on the intermediate routes and does a good job drawing out screens to Rice out of the backfield.
If Flacco can improve (a big if) in terms of pocket awareness and scanning the field, he has a chance to be a dynamic quarterback in the NFL. We saw that firsthand through the first six games of the 2012 season.
That being said, Flacco has 70 career starts under his belt. These issues should have been resolved by now.
The primary issue that I have with the veteran quarterback is how he is utilized in the Ravens' offense by coordinator Cam Cameron. The assistant coach seems to think that he can be the primary reason a team goes to the Super Bowl. This despite the fact that they have the best all-around running back in the game.
If Cameron wasn't asking so much of Flacco there wouldn't be an issue in regards to what I wrote about above. Manage the game, limit mistakes and win. Flacco has won under that scenario in the past and will again in the future.
It is now up to the Ravens to actually utilize him that way, because he will never be one of those quarterbacks that carries a team on his shoulder and wins the Lombardi Trophy.