Joe Flacco's Recent Struggles Shine Light on Ravens Biggest Problem

BJ Kissel@bkissel7Contributor INovember 12, 2013

Nov 3, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) looks to pass against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is forever proving it's a "what have you done for me lately?" league. The most recent example is Baltimore Ravens quarterback and reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco.

Through nine games this season, Flacco's pedestrian numbers (12 TDs, 11 INTs) have put him in the crosshairs of much criticism, both fairly and understandably. 

But this wasn't always the case with Flacco and the Ravens, so this is a new thing for him. Obviously, the quarterback is always going to get a certain amount of attention on any team simply because of the nature of the position.

Flacco visiting Disney World after the Ravens Super Bowl victory.
Flacco visiting Disney World after the Ravens Super Bowl victory.

But in the past, the attention seemed to always start and end with the Ravens defense, specifically Ray Lewis.

Flacco's regular season numbers, while slightly down from years past, aren't all that different than what we've seen from him throughout his career. 

There are a handful of numbers that really sum up Flacco's career and situation up to this point:

25—The most touchdowns Flacco has thrown in a regular season. (2010)

11—Number of touchdowns Flacco threw in last year's playoff run. 

0—Number of interceptions Flacco threw in last year's playoff run. 

120,600,000—The amount of money on Flacco's six-year contract he signed last March, just two months after being named the Super Bowl MVP.  

The easiest explanation for Flacco's criticism has to do with the contract he signed over the offseason. That contract was due in large part to the Ravens winning the Super Bowl and Flacco's magical run during the playoffs. 


It's the economy-ics, stupid!

When someone is made the highest paid player in NFL history, you're expecting a certain level of play from that player, and if you don't get it, questions will be asked.  

Details of Joe Flacco's contract with Baltimore Ravens
YearBaseSigning BonusMISCCap HitDead Money
2013$1 million$5.8 million$3 million$6.8 million$29 million
2014$6 million$5.8 million$4.75 million$14.8 million$38.2 million
2015$4 million$5.8 million$4.75 million$14.55 million$36.4 million
2016$18 million$5.8 million$4.75 million$28.55 million$25.85 million
2017$20.6 million$5.8 million$4.75 million$31.150 million$15.3 million
2018$20 million$5.8 million$4.75 million$24.75 million$4.75 million

With help from, this graph shows good reason why pedestrian numbers from your quarterback, who's paid at this level, becomes a problem for your team. 

It's actually pretty simple: The more money you pay your quarterback, the less you have to spend on other guys around him. Therefore, you'll need more from him because he'll have less around him. 

There's no reason the Ravens should think or should have thought about moving on from Flacco, but at some point, the play on the field has to justify the amount of money being given to him. 

The interesting thing is that people seem to have put Flacco into two separate camps. There's the group that believes he should consistently be the quarterback we saw in the playoffs last season, and then there's the group that believes we'll see the Flacco we've seen throughout the majority of his six-year career.

Joe Flacco's regular season career vs 2012 playoffs
89 Regular season games1,7112,83560.4%19,94011467
4 - 2012 Playoffs366357.1%1,140110

The Ravens were in a tough spot with Flacco during the offseason, and they did what they had to do in biting the bullet and paying him. You can't take the chance of a Super Bowl MVP quarterback just walking away after a year on the franchise tag. 

But the 89 regular season games Flacco has played in should be a better barometer of the player you're paying rather than the four playoff games last season, even including the 2011 playoffs where Flacco played well.

The Ravens knew who they were paying, and they were hoping he'd consistently play at the same level he did in the 2012 playoffs, also known as 3.9 percent of his career games. 

In his piece comparing Flacco's situation to what the Cincinnati Bengals will soon have to decide with Andy Dalton, Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports uses Flacco as a cautionary tale.

You can't win in the NFL with dreams and positive thinking. You need a quarterback playing at a super-high level -- and in lieu of that, you'd better have the financial flexibility to fix that position or seriously upgrade the talent around the quarterback.

It's not about the contract for Flacco necessarily. It has as much to do with what the Ravens won't be able to add around him if he proves to be the quarterback who needs exceptional weapons around him. They simply won't have the cap flexibility unless more changes are made. 

You could ask most NFL fan bases if they'd trade five or six years of mediocrity for one Super Bowl championship, and they'd probably say "yes." The Ravens appear to be a mediocre football team right now, but that's not all on Flacco. 

Losing tight end Dennis Pitta really hurt the Ravens offense in opening up the middle of the field for Flacco. The offensive line hasn't been great either, but the real difference has been the struggles to get the ball deep down the field. 

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Flacco went 50-of-123 for 1,622 yards with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions on passes that were thrown at least 20 yards down the field in 2012. 

In 2013, Flacco is 10-of-50 for 429 yards with zero touchdowns and four interceptions on those same passes. 

The big-play ability just isn't there for this offense right now, and there's 120 million reasons why fans are grumbling. 

Another interesting metric from Pro Football Focus on Flacco and the Ravens offense has to do with "average time to scramble." It's basically the amount of time a quarterback sits in the pocket before making the decision to scramble and get past the line of scrimmage. 

In 2012, Flacco's "average time to scramble" in the regular season was 5.48 seconds, which was sixth-slowest in the NFL. So far in 2013, it's been 5.57 seconds, which is good for fourth-slowest in the NFL.

But in the 2012 playoffs where Flacco made his money, his time was 4.05 seconds, which was the fastest of any quarterback in the playoffs. That's a huge difference. 

There are a lot of variables that go into these numbers, and they have to be considered when drawing any kind of a conclusion. 

If getting back to what was successful is a goal for the Ravens offense, they should start by looking at the numbers to see if there's something to them. 

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said as much after Flacco was sacked five times last week by the Cleveland Browns, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. "The quarterbacks have got to get the ball out, and they've got to find ways to protect themselves with ‘hot’ throws and things like that, too," Harbaugh said.

Not having Anquan Boldin as a "hot" read is obviously affecting Flacco this season, but his contract is such that it's up to him to make the players around him better.

The success of the highest paid player in NFL history shouldn't be dependent on a single veteran receiver being present or not. The Ravens might be learning the hard way that with Flacco, it just might, and that's not what you want from a $120 million dollar quarterback. 


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