The Baltimore Ravens notched their second loss of the season in Week 4, dropping to the Buffalo Bills 23-20. Though they managed to dig themselves out of a deficit as deep as 13 points, it wasn't enough to lead them to victory. The main reason? Quarterback Joe Flacco's five interceptions, the most he's thrown in a single game in his career.
Let's take a look at Flacco's five picks and try to draw a few conclusions about what went wrong on Sunday and where the Ravens offense can prevent this from happening again.
Interception No. 1: 1st Quarter, 5:37, 3rd and 7 at the Baltimore 23
Flacco's first interception of the game came in the first quarter on a pass meant for wide receiver Tandon Doss.
This was simply a bad decision by the quarterback. Flacco forced the pass to Doss, who is not known for his reliable hands, while he was in double coverage. The rest of the Ravens receivers were also well covered.
Flacco shouldn't have made this throw, even though it would have ended the Baltimore drive. The pick, by Bills safety Aaron Williams, eventually led to a Buffalo field goal that extended their lead to 6-0.
Interception No. 2: 2nd Quarter, 8:14, 1st and 20 at the Baltimore 20
Flacco's second interception, in the second quarter, was a pass meant for tight end Ed Dickson, again another unreliable option.
The pass was high, Dickson tipped it and it led to another Bills safety, Jim Leonhard, getting the interception. Dickson was also well-covered on the play while it's clear that there are three other Ravens receivers wide open. It was a bad throw by Flacco and an even worse decision.
This interception led to Bills running back Fred Jackson scoring a 16-yard rushing touchdown, and the Bills led, 20-7.
Interception No. 3: 3rd Quarter, 10:34, 3rd and 11 at the Buffalo 19
This interception was a particularly painful one for the Ravens. Their own linebacker, Daryl Smith, picked off Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel to set Baltimore up for a chance at a score. A sack on second down set the Ravens back, but scoring points seemed in their reach.
Instead, Flacco forces a shot to the back corner of the end zone, trying to reach favored target Torrey Smith. However, Smith was well-covered by Williams, and he easily gets his second interception of the day.
Mercifully, the Bills did not score on the ensuing possession.
Interception No. 4: 3rd Quarter, 5:01, 1st and 10 at the Buffalo 46
This play, which turned into Flacco's fourth interception of the game, was a result of both bad quarterback decision-making and a bit of confusion among the Baltimore receivers.
The pass, intended for receiver Marlon Brown, gets picked off by Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso. Brown seems thrown off, however, by Tandon Doss being in the same area. This confusion between Doss and Brown, combined with a bad decision by Flacco to throw in such a heavy-traffic area turns into an easy interception for Alonso.
The Bills eventually scored three points from the post-interception drive and nearly had a touchdown.
Interception No. 5: 4th Quarter, 1:04, 3rd and 8 at the Buffalo 48
This final pick put the nail in the coffin for the Ravens on Sunday. The Ravens had fought back to close Buffalo's lead, and were down by just three points, 23-20. With a minute to go, they had a chance to either tie or win the game, something nearly impossible for a team that had already turned the ball over four times.
Flacco, trying to hit tight end Dallas Clark, throws the ball a little too high.
Clark tips the ball up and Alonso, with his eyes on the play the whole time, is able to leap in to make the pick. The play sealed Baltimore's fate.
What Happened, and What's Next?
For Flacco's immaculate postseason performance last year, in which he threw 11 touchdowns and didn't turn the ball over once, he's a very inconsistent quarterback on a weekly basis. When he's good, he's nearly flawless, but when he's bad, he can be horrid—though never worse than he was against the Bills on Sunday.
So far this year, Flacco has thrown only five touchdowns to seven interceptions. A dearth of receiving weapons—Dickson and Doss have been as unreliable as ever, while Clark, Brandon Stokley and the newly-returned Deonte Thompson are all trying to get on the same page—haven't helped him.
Only wideouts Brown and Smith have been sources of consistent success for Flacco this year, and when they're buried in double coverage, he has few outlets to turn to. And when he does, he appears to panic, making poor decisions and bad throws.
Two of his interceptions on Sunday were results of tipped passes, borne of high throws. The others were the result of him forcing the football into bad coverage situations.
Surprisingly, though Flacco's struggles didn't let up, the Ravens chose against running the ball. They rushed just nine times on Sunday, for 24 yards, all while Flacco threw 50 passes. This, against a Buffalo defense that ranks 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed.
Seven of those nine runs came in the first half, with Ray Rice netting eight yards on three attempts and Bernard Pierce seven on four. The Ravens only ran the ball twice in the second half, and even then it was near the end of the game, with Rice picking up nine yards.
Not running the ball put undue pressure on Flacco, who had already turned the ball over twice before halftime. It reduced their time of possession to 22:34 to Buffalo's 36:26, allowing their defense to be overworked. Baltimore gave up 350 yards of total offense, with 203 of that in rushing yardage.
Going into this game, the Bills' weakness against the run was well-known. The run also produced major dividends for the Ravens in their Week 3 drubbing of the Houston Texans, whom they beat, 30-9, thanks to a strong defensive performance and good running. In fact, the Ravens had 31 rushes in that game compared to only 24 Flacco pass attempts.
That formula worked, and it figured to keep on working, especially with the problems in Baltimore's receiving corps having yet ironed themselves out. Instead, the Ravens chose to flip it entirely, putting the game on Flacco's shoulders even when he very clearly was having a bad day.
The Ravens have to go back to their roots, running the ball effectively and playing high-level defense. This isn't the pass-first offense of the past two years, simply because the receiving weaponry isn't presently of the same caliber.
Asking Flacco to do too much when he has little to work with is not a formula for winning, as we saw very clearly on Sunday.