To take the following numbers on the surface wouldn’t be fair.
Quarterback Joe Flacco’s 30 sacks absorbed is tied for third-most in the league and his 11 interceptions are fifth-most. His 256.3 passing yards per game are tied for 14th while his 12 touchdown throws are tied for 12th.
But in part because of the Ravens’ inability to run the ball, and the repeated early deficits, they’re forced to pass more than they ever have in six seasons with Flacco under center.
Flacco is on pace for a career high in passing yards and attempts (615) after entering the year having never thrown more than 542 times in a season. His 11 interceptions are already more than last year’s 10 in 20 games, and he’s on pace for 20, which would shatter his previous career high of 12 (set three times before).
Flacco is also on pace to be sacked 53 times, which would wreck his previous high of 40.
Even though some of the blame goes to the fact that the Ravens have to be one-dimensional at times because of the running failures, the pass protection isn’t blameless. Flacco was only sacked 35 times a year ago and he’s up to 30 with seven games to go.
Flacco isn’t passing so much more that the sacks would be spiking so sharply. So what gives?
“Listen, teams are coming after us a little bit and we’re kind of letting them. We’re not really doing anything to combat it,” Flacco said Wednesday. “We haven’t been good enough to stop it and do other things to get them out of it, and it makes those guys’ job tough up front. Teams have been able to kind of get enough guys up in there to cause us a little bit of confusion, and I think that’s been the biggest issue.”
But how do the Ravens correct their inability to protect the passer?
“It’s everything. We’ve got to be better,” Flacco said. “But the biggest thing is that we’ve got to be good at the stuff that we do. We’ve got to hit them with stuff that makes it hurt. OK, you’re going to put guys up in there, you’re going to double lug guys, you’re going to bring guys off the edge, you’re going to do all these things, you’re going to play one-on-one coverage - we’ve got to make it hurt. We just haven’t been good enough to really have teams feel the effect, the negative effects of them doing it. It’s just kind of been pretty positive for them and that’s why they continue to do it.”
Fingers are usually pointed directly at the offensive line when the quarterback is on his back as much as Flacco has been this year.
But like Flacco, left tackle Eugene Monroe doesn’t believe the line deserves all the blame for the mounting sacks total.
“You can’t pinpoint every sack on the O-line,” Monroe said. “It’s an entire offensive effort in terms of how those happen. In the ones that we do have on the O-line, we make sure we get those corrected. So again, it’s an entire offensive effort in terms of keeping Joe clean, whether it’s him or it’s us being in sync, whether it’s guys being where they’re supposed to be at the right time. I mean, there’s a lot at play.”
Coach John Harbaugh spoke at length on the subject Wednesday, generally addressing the difficulties of pass protecting in the NFL as well as evaluating the Ravens specifically.
“Pass protection is not a simple thing by design. The pressures are always built that way,” Harbaugh said. “If you look around the league, you’re going to see that it’s tough picking up blitzes. Our issue right now is the pressures. We’re doing a good job against the four-man rush. We’ve got to do a better job against the pressures, and that (blame is) spread out. I don’t know if communication is the right word. It’s being on the same page and picking up the pressures when they make them complicated for you.
“When they attack a protection where you can’t pick everybody up, then we’ve got to get the ball out to the right guy and hopefully they’re not covering that guy or there’s a little room to throw to that guy. That’s not always the case. The guy’s not always open. Other times, we’ve got to get the back to the right spot. Other times, we’ve got to get the line to the right spot. So we’re doing that many different times, but that’s always a chess game in there, and I think our guys are fighting for that just like everybody in the league is. We’ll keep working for that.
“The more experienced lines are always going to do a little better with that. I look around the league and that’s what I see. So we’ve got to keep building toward that. I know we can do it. We’ve got a good scheme, we’ve got smart guys, we’ve got backs who are willing to pick guys up and stick their face in there and block people. Ray Rice is a premier back, and he’s also an excellent pass-protection guy. Bernard Pierce, he’ll stick it up in there. He’s learning pass protection as we go. So that’s something we’ve just got to keep working toward.”
Note: Kicker Justin Tucker was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday after hitting the game-winning 46-yard field goal in overtime to send the Ravens past the Bengals on Sunday.
Tucker made both of his field goal attempts in the victory, and is 16-for-16 since going 0-for-2 in Week 2 against the Browns. He is 18-for-20 overall this season.