A reoccurring topic on this blog has been the lack of successful deep balls for Joe Flacco and the Ravens.
Former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron tailored the offense to Flacco’s powerful right arm and Jim Caldwell kept plenty of deep balls on his play card after he replaced Cameron last December. So far this season, though, Flacco hasn’t been clicking with his outside receivers, particularly Torrey Smith, as often.
Flacco has completed just three of his 17 attempts beyond 20 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. But the conversation might be a little different had the wide receivers helped their quarterback out by hanging onto accurate passes. In the past two weeks, Smith has bobbled two catchable passes, including one in the end zone against the Cleveland Browns. Marlon Brown also dropped a would-be touchdown in Week 2.
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I’m sure they would pass on admitting it publicly, but Flacco and company have to be feeling pretty confident that they will be able to connect in the deep passing game Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills are banged up in the secondary. Free safety Jairus Byrd, who is their franchise player, has been sidelined with a foot injury. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks also sat out their game last Sunday against the New York Jets. And with those guys out, the Bills allowed the Jets to complete a couple of deep balls down the sidelines.
Third-year cornerback Justin Rogers got the start against the Jets and rookie quarterback Geno Smith put up huge numbers attacking him. Rogers, who was a seventh-round pick, was targeted eight times, according to Pro Football Focus. He allowed six of those passes to be completed for 247 yards and two touchdowns. That was 30.9 yards per reception.
On the first touchdown pass he allowed, Rogers let Stephen Hill get a clean outside release and he couldn’t keep up with him down the right sideline. His safety help came too late and Hill ran into the end zone for an easy 51-yard score.
In the fourth quarter, Santonio Holmes beat him for what would turn out to be the game-winning touchdown. Rogers was left on an island with Holmes, but didn’t get his head around to defend the deep ball and slipped after Holmes made the catch. Holmes ran it in for a 69-yard touchdown.
If Rogers couldn’t hang with Holmes, he probably won't stand much of a chance against Smith, who is one of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL. The Bills may make more of a concerted effort to shade a safety over to help Rogers after his struggles against the Jets, but the Ravens will likely still get opportunities to drop some bombs down the field.
Similar opportunities in the first three weeks haven't been as fruitful, but if Smith and his fellow wide-outs can hang onto the ball -- in bounds, that is -- Flacco could have a big game.