Is the Baltimore Ravens' Unbalanced Offense Setting Joe Flacco Up to Fail?

Shehan PeirisCorrespondent IIISeptember 29, 2013

Without a running game, Joe Flacco will continue to struggle.
Without a running game, Joe Flacco will continue to struggle.Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco will receive all of the blame after throwing five interceptions in a stunning 23-20 loss that the Baltimore Ravens suffered at the hands of th Buffalo Bills in Week 4. As a $120 million quarterback, the finger-pointing regarding the putrid Ravens offense starts with him. But there is much more going awry with the dysfunctional offense than Joe Flacco.

Flacco is one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in the NFL, with critics questioning whether he is an “elite quarterback.”

He’s not.

He isn’t on the same level as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. He’s not a quarterback that will win games by throwing the ball 50 times.

That doesn’t mean he’s not worth the money. That’s just the price you pay for a good quarterback in today’s NFL. It’s why the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons both shelled out over $100 million for two quarterbacks that have each won only one playoff game.

Joe Flacco needs weapons and a running gamehe doesn’t have either right now. This imbalance is why the offense has been nonexistent, save for a few good drives that have broken up large chunks of offensive mediocrity.

Against the Bills, Flacco attempted 50 passes, while the running backs had nine total carries. In the Cam Cameron days, such a disparity was usually the result of Cameron not giving the running game a chance. Right now, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell doesn’t really have a choice.

The Bills had the second-worst rushing defense in the NFL entering Week 4, giving up 155 yards per game. Baltimore’s running backs only gained 24 yards on nine carries (2.7 yards per carry), which forced Caldwell to completely abandon the run in the second half.

You could make the argument that Caldwell was too Cameronian and ditched the running game unnecessarily. The game was certainly well within reach at halftime, so there was no need to come out throwing. But watching the offensive line get manhandled in the first half was enough for Caldwell.

According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Ravens offensive line is the worst run-blocking group in the NFL right now, and Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher are the two worst run-blocking tackles in the league.

Ray Rice hasn't had any room to run, and the Ravens' rushing attack has disappeared.
Ray Rice hasn't had any room to run, and the Ravens' rushing attack has disappeared.Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Consequently, Baltimore has averaged 2.6 yards per carry on the season, which is the third-lowest mark in the league. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were supposed to become a fearsome one-two punch, but neither of them has found any room to run.

Without a ground game, Flacco has struggled.

During Flacco’s historic postseason run last year, he only averaged 31.5 attempts per game. The offense exhibited tremendous balance with an average of 34.8 rushing attempts per game. Flacco was extremely effective working off the success of the run game, repeatedly making big plays en route to an average of 9.05 yards per attempt.

This season, the running game has been so awful that opposing teams have contained the run using their defensive fronts. With extra men dropping back into coverage, Flacco hasn’t been able to make any plays downfield, and he’s averaging a measly 6.25 yards per attempt.

For those who aren’t paying attention, Tom Brady is dealing with similar issues. While many would consider the comparison of Brady and Flacco to be blasphemy, have you checked out their stats lately?

Both are missing their favorite receivers from last year. Both are trying to overcome injuries to offensive weapons. Both have put up some pretty bad statistics.

No, Joe Flacco is not better than Tom Brady. But he is even more reliant than Brady on a good running game, and he can't succeed without it. There is no doubt that he has to be better than he was against Buffalo, but without a running game, he won't be able to come close to his postseason form.

Flacco will be the first one to say that he cost the Baltimore Ravens a victory against the Buffalo Bills. Nevertheless, he is not the one to blame for the offensive woes the Ravens have faced this year.

The imbalance is what’s stunting the offense, not Joe Flacco.