After quarterback Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory by throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs, many of us wondered what the Super Bowl MVP would do for an encore.
Throw a ton of passes, apparently.
Flacco has thrown 169 of them through four games and has been sacked 15 times. Flacco has averaged 56 pass attempts in the team’s two losses and 28.5 in two wins. Entering Monday night’s NFL game, only four quarterbacks have thrown more passes than Flacco (and they don't have winning records either).
Before the season began, I predicted that Flacco, despite being without two of his favorite targets from 2012, would set a new career high in single-season passing yards in 2013. My logic was that this was the direction that the offense was heading, and his success in the playoffs would embolden the Ravens to keep forging ahead.
I didn’t expect them to throw this often, though. Flacco’s arm has been getting a workout because the running game has been one of the NFL’s most inefficient and because the Ravens have fallen behind in a couple of games, Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills included, forcing them to throw a little more than they would probably like.
Against the Bills, Flacco completed 25 of his 50 attempts for 347 yards and two touchdowns. But his five interceptions were the most he had ever thrown in an NFL game.
Flacco is on pace to throw 676 passes this season, which would be 134 more than his previous high, set in 2011. On pace to throw for 4,364 yards, Flacco could shatter his previous high of 3,817 passing yards, which he set last season. This is the kind of stuff that gets fantasy football players excited, but there is more bad than good here.
With seven interceptions in four games, Flacco is on pace to throw 28 interceptions. I doubt he comes close to that projection, but his career high of 12 interceptions is in serious jeopardy. He has completed a career-low 57.4 percent of his passes, is averaging a career-low 6.46 yards per attempt and has a career-low 69.4 passer rating.
No, it has not been pretty for Flacco. He has made some nice throws this season and his receivers have dropped a bunch of passes, making his numbers look worse. And there are clearly still chemistry issues with his pass-catchers, whether they have been around for a few years or just joined the team in the offseason or training camp.
Two of his interceptions Sunday came when he targeted one of his tight ends. The first one was Ed Dickson’s fault, clanking off his hands directly to a Bills defender. The other one, the fifth and final interception of the game, was a tough play for Dallas Clark to make, but clearly Flacco thought the veteran would be able to make it.
His fourth interception wasn’t a great decision, but Flacco probably thought that rookie wide-out Marlon Brown would run his crossing route in front of Kiko Alonso instead of behind the Bills inside linebacker.
So what needs to be done to get Flacco back on track? In my opinion, getting the running game going would be a nice start. When opponents know you don't plan to run the ball -- and that when you do, it won’t be very effective -- it makes things pretty difficult for any quarterback, especially one with a revolving door of pass-catchers.
It will still be on Flacco to get the most out of himself and his teammates when asked to throw, but fewer attempts will likely mean more when it comes to the passing game.