Joe Flacco can't hide behind a running game and defense anymore. (Getty Images)
Before the Baltimore Ravens' 20-13 win over the Houston Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco let the media have it about the fact that he feels disrespected as a winning quarterback. "I'm sure if we win I'll have nothing to do with why we won, according to you guys," Flacco said last Wednesday.
As it turned out, the Ravens won, and Flacco didn't have as much to do with it as he'd probably need to make his case that he's an elite quarterback. He was bailed out by his receivers on several throws, and his final stat line — 14 of 27 for 176 yards and two touchdowns — should be seen in that context. According to Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics, Flacco was the sixth-best quarterback of the entire divisional round — just above Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates and some guy named Tim Tebow.
More importantly, Flacco left one of the Ravens' most important players with a distinctly unimpressed feeling. Talking to SIRIUS NFL Radio on Monday, mega-safety Ed Reed said that Flacco underperformed against Houston's aggressive defense.
"They had a lot of guys in the box on him and they were giving [the pass] to him," Reed said. "I think a couple of times he needed to get rid of the ball. It just didn't look like he had a hold on the offense. I don't know how much of [that was] the play calling … but it just didn't look like he had a hold on the offense, you know, of times past … It was just kind of like they [were] telling him [what] to do -- throw the ball or get it here, you know, get it to certain guys."
Perhaps this was based on a concern that to beat the New England Patriots, who the Ravens will meet in Sunday's AFC championship game, Flacco will most likely have to play a near-perfect game — and he hasn't had too many of those this season.
"He can't play like [he did against the Texans]," Reed continued. "One specific play that sticks out to me was when Ray Rice came out and got pushed out of the backfield and [Flacco] still threw him the ball and he had Torrey Smith on the outside. I can see that sitting on the sideline or sitting in the stands. You don't know what someone else is seeing."
Flacco came out of the 2008 draft with as much pure arm talent as any quarterback in recent memory, but the results have been questionable at best. Despite his reputation as a "winner," his 44-20 regular-season "record" must be mitigated by the fact that he's buttressed by an astounding defense and the efforts of Ray Rice. Flacco is, in fact, the NFL's best argument against quarterback wins as a statistic.
Only twice in the 2011 season did he throw more than two touchdown passes in a game, and each of those were in the bag by Week 3. Of special concern should be the four games in which he failed to throw for a score at all, despite attempting more than 30 passes in three of those games, and more than 50 against the Arizona Cardinals. He's known as a guy who's "won" a lot of playoff games, which is fine until you realize that he has more postseason interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six). And the last time Flacco faced the Patriots in the playoffs, he "won" a wild-card game, 33-14, despite throwing just 10 passes and competing only four. In fact, he didn't throw a single touchdown pass in four of his first five playoff games.
Reed, who's been one of the smartest players in the NFL since Flacco was attending high school, knows all this. His outburst was most likely an attempt at motivation, and the "tough love" that's been a part of the Ravens' culture for a long time. If Flacco gets past the Patriots and his own limitations, it's all systems go for the Super Bowl. But all the pressure is on Flacco now, and even his teammates know it. If he can't pull it off this time, he's likely to be more defined by that.
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