Much has been said about Joe Flacco since the end of last season. Unfortunately for him, most of what’s being said is not very positive. The general consensus is that Flacco isn’t an elite quarterback and that he can win with the Ravens because of their great defense, but will always struggle to win games against elite teams in meaningful games.
Many Ravens fans have begun to doubt Flacco and are beginning to see visions of Kyle Boller, the Ravens last underachieving quarterback. This is a sore subject for fans, but the doubting and Boller comparisons are premature and unfair.
Flacco has taken the Ravens to the playoffs in the last three seasons. He has won more playoff games in his first three seasons than any other quarterback in NFL history. Furthermore, he is skyrocketing up the Ravens’ franchise records in every passing category. Flacco helps the Ravens win games, and even the harshest critic must admit that he has brought stability to a historically unstable position in Baltimore.
In the interest of fairness and objectivity, we’re going to analyze Joe Flacco’s last season. Specifically, we’re going to look at how Joe helps the Ravens win games. Please refer to the table and graphs while reading this article.
Football is a team sport, and both sides of the ball, offense and defense, affect the game's outcome and affect each other. If Flacco's success versus an opposing defense matches the success of an opponent quarterback versus the Ravens’ defense, the game should be close... theoretically. If Flacco is having more success versus the opposing defense than the opposing quarterback is having versus the Ravens’ defense, the Ravens should be winning. Conversely, they should be losing if Flacco is having less success than the opposing quarterback.
Obviously, quarterback play isn't the only factor in winning football games. Flacco only threw for 34 yards versus the Patriots in the 2009 playoffs, and the Ravens still won in a dominating fashion. A single game can also be misleading since there will obviously be statistical outliers in any sample. That's why we need to analyze an entire season instead of a single game or even a few games. We’ll take the largest sample size we can with the same contributing factors and look for trends.
The first set of statistics that we will analyze are the passer ratings of Flacco and the opposing quarterbacks of the Ravens’ 2010 season. They should give us a good understanding of how much success a respective quarterback is having versus the defense he is facing and help us analyze Flacco’s role in the team's victories throughout the season.
From the graph of the QB ratings, it’s clear that Flacco’s rating showed steady increase as the season progressed and the opposing quarterbacks’ rating showed a steady decrease. This simply means that Flacco was finding more success versus opposing defenses and the Ravens’ defense was steadily clamping down on quarterbacks.
The QB rating graph tells us that, in general, the Ravens were playing better as a team as the season wore on because Flacco was improving at the same rate as the defense. This may be the best indication of a healthy, successful team.
It’s also a positive mark for Flacco because he was not only finding success as a quarterback but also helping the defense to succeed by putting pressure on opposing offenses. Furthermore, Flacco showed remarkable improvement from last season, when his passer rating trend actually decreased throughout the season.
The second statistic we will analyze is yardage. Like the passer rating, yardage will tell us how much success the respective quarterback is having versus the opposing defense, but it will also tell us how much the team is relying on the quarterback. From the yardage graph, it’s very clear that Flacco’s trend shows a moderate decrease and the opposing quarterbacks’ trend shows a moderate increase as the weeks progress. Believe it or not, this is actually a good sign for the Ravens and Flacco.
The fact that Flacco’s yardage trend decreased while his passer rating trend increased and the opponent quarterbacks’ trend increased while their passer rating decreased means two things. First, the Ravens were relying less on Flacco to win games as the season progressed, and second, they were forcing opposing teams into more one-dimensional game plans.
An increase in passer rating with a decrease in yardage indicates offensive efficiency and/or means that the team is winning in a more complete-team fashion. A decrease in passer rating with an increase in yardage indicates a one-dimensional offense and/or a team playing from behind.
The touchdown and interception statistics are the last two sets we will analyze and must be looked at together. Flacco’s touchdown trend was nearly flat but did show a very slight increase, and his interception trend showed a steady decrease. The opposing quarterbacks’ touchdown trend showed a moderate increase, but the interception trend showed a dramatic increase.
These trend lines paint a very interesting picture and may be the most dramatic of all the graphs. They tell us that Flacco was steadily throwing touchdowns throughout the season. He didn’t show great statistical improvement, but when you consider what we learned from the passer rating and yardage trends, it’s impressive that Flacco was able to keep his touchdown scoring trend steady with remarkably less of the offense flowing through him.
The opposing quarterbacks’ touchdown and interception trend lines are very positive signs for the Ravens defense and a can be seen as a testament to the return of Ed Reed in week seven. The increase in the opponent quarterbacks’ touchdown trend may look like a negative sign for the defense, and in reality, it’s the defense’s job to prevent touchdowns.
However, it needs to be taken into context. When a quarterback’s interception rate increases at a much greater rate than his touchdown rate, that quarterback is almost always losing games. It usually indicates a quarterback that is being overflowed with passing attempts and therefore, is an indication of a team playing from behind with a one-dimensional game plan.
All things considered, the statistics are overwhelmingly in the favor of the Ravens, and it’s no wonder why they were able to win 12 games last season and make it to the divisional round of the playoffs. While the statistics may not reveal Flacco as a quarterback that single-handedly wins games for his team, they do show that he is an integral part of their winning strategy. We could even argue that a balanced attack, where the quarterback cannot be singled out, is the more effective approach.
The Ravens would be far less of a team without Flacco, and their coaching staff has built a solid team around him. Sure, Flacco doesn’t sling the ball like Peyton Manning, but in the Ravens system, he doesn’t need too…and they would be foolish to change anything.