Orchestrating the no-huddle offense with confidence, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco engineered a routine victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last Monday night.
As the Ravens take on the Philadelphia Eagles today at Lincoln Financial Field, the defending AFC North champions rank fourth in total offense and fifth in passing.
So far, the hurry-up strategy has been a hit for the Ravens.
Former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann and other NFL experts believe that the Ravens are only scratching the surface of what Flacco can do operating a no-huddle offense with a heavy dose of shotgun formations, similar to how he was utilized at Delaware.
"He was terrific," Theismann said. "I go back to the championship game, and Joe doesn't get enough credit. I've seen a decisiveness in Joe where he doesn't wait for someone to break open. He's putting some onus on his receivers to make plays. He's making good decisions, putting balls in places where only his guys can make plays. I saw him get into a terrific rhythm against the Bengals.
"I think they're just now finding out what they have and what they can do. I think the Ravens and the 49ers will be in the Super Bowl. They should have been in it last year. In sports and life, we want instant gratification. People don't have patience or give people an opportunity to develop. Ozzie Newsome and everybody else in the organization gave Joe a chance."
Theismann attributed some of the no-huddle improvement and implementation to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, who has a big familiarity with the strategy from his time with the Indianapolis Colts as the former head coach and quarterbacks coach under the Peyton Manning era.
"Adding Jim to the staff was a very smart move," Theismann said. "You don't just bring people in for the sake of bringing them in. You bring them in because they can add an element to your football team. Jim understands decisions. He's a person of great calm and he was around the master of the no-huddle offense, Peyton Manning. All you can do is refer Peyton as, if you're talking about martial arts, is a grand master.
"You've got a coordinator in Cam Cameron who knows his people, knows his quarterback and they're on the same page. That's the key. Cam and Joe know exactly what each other are thinking. They're on the same page and understanding why a play is called. That's one of the hardest things to get to in football, and the Ravens are getting there."
Flacco was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time in his career, completing 21 of 29 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 128.4 passer rating against the Bengals during a 44-13 victory.
For his career, Flacco has completed 1,211 of 1,987 passes for 14,115 yards, 82 touchdowns and 46 interceptions for an 86.6 passer rating.
He's 50-24 as a starter, including the regular season and playoffs with two AFC championship game appearances, never missing a start.
And Flacco appears to be making improvements in terms of his command and control of the offense in his fifth NFL season.
"I watched the game Monday night and he looked so much more confident," said former Washington Redskins safety Matt Bowen, a National Football Post analyst. "I've always thought quarterbacks get into a rhythm in the no-huddle, guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning almost dictating the flow of the game. Joe was in complete control of the offense. That pump seam to Anquan Boldin was a check at the line of scrimmage. From a defensive perspective, the no-huddle causes you to be gasssed.
"You're scrambling, trying to run guys on and off the field and it turns into panic. You're caught in the wrong sub package. You saw how much they used the tight end Monday night. That's all part of having a no-huddle offense. You've got a quarterback with confidence and you've got Ray Rice against those linebackers. They don't know if it's a run or a pass. I think they were lost. I put that on panic in the defense, and the no-huddle made a difference."
Flacco connected with wide receiver Anquan Boldin for 34-yard touchdown, threading the football between defenders to hit him in the end zone.
Flacco spread the football around, delivering completions to seven different targets.
"Flacco is a very talented guy, and you can easily make the argument that in terms of physical talent he's top-five in the NFL," said Greg Cosell, an analyst for NFL Films. "I think Flacco has lived a strange public existence in how he's perceived. If Mark Sanchez had accomplished what Joe has with wins, he would be viewed as an unbelievable player. Joe has been incredibly successful. All offseason, we kept hesaring how this is the year Joe makes the next step. I would argue he already took the next step. His throw to Lee Evans is the equal of Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes in the Super Bowl.
"It was a huge moment in a huge game. If Lee Evans catches that ball, Joe would have been a Super Bowl quarterback. Wouldn't that generate a different conversation, a more positive one? I think Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback with arguably one of the strongest arms in the league. He makes unbelievable throws. I spent 3 1/2 hours with him and Ron Jaworski this summer in the film room and he was terrific at the monitor. He understands concepts. I think he's a very good NFL quarterback, without question. There are probably some areas where you could say he has work to do. You can't say he's not an elite arm talent."
Like Bowen, Cosell singled out the throw to Boldin as a signature play for Flacco.
"It was a big-time mental play before the snap and a big-time physical throw," Cosell said. "That's a snapshot play of Joe Flacco."
Cosell predicted that the Ravens may utilize even more no-huddle looks to try to slow down the Eagles' substitution pattern for their deep defensive line headlined by defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin, who combined for 29 sacks last year.
"I would think they'll do that to keep them from rotating so much," Cosell said. "It can be a real positive for Baltimore."