For the immediate future, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will be under full observation.
If he goes to buy pizza, a drone will be circling overhead. Video cameras will be secretly attached to his car, and an undercover agent must follow him wherever he goes. There appears to be more to his back injury than first believed.
It’s not as if the Ravens are trying to hide anything. Their medical people are diligently working with Flacco in hopes that he can work through the injury and play throughout the season. But after watching Flacco play against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, there has to be concern.
Flacco hadn’t played in any preseason games and had just four full practices before the Bengals game, so some rust was expected. But there was more to his performance than just a lack of timing and chemistry.
He was stiff.
Despite being out for nearly five weeks, he played like an athlete who was still in discomfort, and it makes you wonder how many more games he can play in pain.
After the game Flacco said his back felt good, and coach John Harbaugh reported no setbacks Monday, though he won’t talk to Flacco until Tuesday.
Flacco and the Ravens stayed with the running game against Cincinnati, and he completed just nine of 17 passes for 121 yards and one touchdown. Flacco finished with only a 71.0 quarterback rating, but he was effective and in control.
But this wasn’t the old Flacco.
He has never been extremely accurate, but now he is throwing off his back foot more than usual. At times against the Bengals he was aiming the ball, and that was noticeable in a video from practice last week.
At this point there is no reason to overstate Flacco’s back injury, but it is something to keep an eye on because it’s hard to tell its severity. Flacco always walks slowly and has no sense of urgency in his stride. He just kind of glides.
But on Sunday, he walked more like a military man with an intentional arch in his back. He didn’t throw a pass more than 15 yards and didn’t follow through hard on any of them. There was no torque through his midsection into his lower body as far as stepping firmly into passes.
It’s understandable why the Ravens didn’t want to overuse Flacco. The running game was working and Harbaugh has talked about being committed to the rushing attack since the end of last season.
The game plan was perfect.
But the Ravens might have also been hiding Flacco to cut down on possible shots he might have taken while dropping back to pass, and Flacco’s injury might have limited his ability or desire to throw a lot of deep passes.
The Ravens have invested millions of dollars into Flacco, so rest assured he is getting the best treatment possible. He has and continues to go through rehabilitation, massages and probably injections to get him back to 100 percent.
But these types of injuries cause athletes to overcompensate, which creates stress and injuries to other areas of the body. Flacco might just be at the stage where he has to learn to work through some type of muscular discomfort every week.
And maybe once that happens he’ll be fine. The Ravens don’t need Flacco to carry the team the way Tom Brady does in New England. That’s the job of the defense.
But in Flacco’s five-week absence there was a notable difference in the amount of confidence and energy he brought to the huddle.
The idea of the Ravens combining great defense with a strong running game is not new. It sells well in Baltimore. But sooner or later, the Ravens are going to be involved in games in which they are going to need Flacco to throw 35 times a game.
And at this point you wonder whether Flacco will be available. On Sunday, he got hit several times by the Bengals. With 1:12 left in the third quarter he got pounded by Carlos Dunlap and was slow getting to his feet.
Twice in the fourth quarter the Ravens were called for delay-of-game penalties after wasting two timeouts in similar situations early in the third quarter.
With a few more hits like that, Flacco can’t continue to play, not the way he looked Sunday. For the next couple of weeks the offensive line has to keep him clean to work into a steady routine.
It was great to see Flacco return to action, and he is still tough and durable. But at this point we’re not sure how long that will last.
The observations will continue.