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Ravens need the right Joe Flacco to show up after bye week

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. (Patrick Smith, Getty Images)

Maybe when the bye week is over and the Ravens are headed to New Orleans for a Monday night game against the Saints, another Joe Flacco will emerge.

There have been two this season, the one who appeared so energetic and confident during the first half of the season, and the other who has surfaced during the last three weeks.

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This Flacco is gun shy, has poor footwork and lacks recognition when it comes to reading defenses and putting his offense and players in the right spots to succeed.

Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith might have given everyone a glimpse Sunday after the game when he was asked if he sees more confidence in fellow receiver Torrey Smith.

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"I don't think he ever wasn't confident in his self," Steve Smith said. "I think sometimes coverages and situations are not recognized, and [that] gives our offense some difficult situations. But we're plugging away on it."

Steve Smith might have been talking about Torrey Smith, but he easily could have been speaking about Flacco. Let's forget about statistics here, but if this was baseball, Flacco has been in a miniature slump for three games, going back to the team's 27-24 loss on the road to the Cincinnati Bengals.

On that day, Flacco completed only 17 of 34 passes for 195 yards with two interceptions, and he easily could have thrown four. Last week, Flacco completed 30 of 45 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he was sacked four times and viciously hit 10 others.

Flacco was timid that day, and he shied away from contact Sunday in the Ravens' 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans at M&T Bank Stadium. He completed only 16 of 27 passes for 169 yards, and he looked a lot like he did last season when he was getting banged around like a pinata.

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Flacco was nervous Sunday. Several times, he threw while falling backward, failing to plant his back foot. He lacked pocket awareness and at times failed to step up and into his throws, which caused them to be short, high or off-target.

There was one time when right tackle Rick Wagner got beat to the outside and all Flacco had to do was move one step inside to avoid the sack, but he didn't move at all.

The only player on the field with less agility was Titans rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger, but at least he was only starting his second game. Flacco has been starting for seven years.

But it's not all about footwork and pocket awareness. In the past three weeks, there have been times when Flacco has had receivers open on short to intermediate routes, but he chose to throw long, which ended with incompletions.

Against Cincinnati several weeks ago, there were times when Steve Smith was uncovered while cutting across the field on the waggle pass play, but Flacco went elsewhere. He missed Torrey Smith while clearing underneath Sunday and halfback Justin Forsett on a wheel route out of the backfield.

All quarterbacks miss receivers from time to time, but it has happened more with Flacco during the last three games. Maybe it's because of the pressure from the rush or because of earlier success in which Flacco consistently connected on long passes against a poor team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Back then, Flacco had a nice touch on the long ball. He still can deliver occasionally, but is not as consistent. Just ask Torrey Smith. There are times when you wonder if Flacco might be suffering from the leg he hurt late in the Nov. 2 game against the Steelers.

But there are no excuses for the Ravens' inability to recognize and get in and out of plays. In the first half against Tennessee, the Titans were packing seven or eight players near the line of scrimmage.

The Ravens finally adjusted with some slant-in patterns that backed the Titans off, but what took so long? Instead of trying to pound the run off tackle, where were those tosses and screens?

Some of the play-calling is offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's fault, but after seven years in the league, Flacco should regularly check in and out of plays at the line of scrimmage.

You don't sense that with him. The only checkdown you see regularly is when the Ravens get double coverage on one side and single and press coverage on the other, and then Flacco goes deep.

The Ravens need the other Flacco, the one who started the season.

"I've never been in a race this tight, this late in the season," Ravens tight end Owen Daniels said. "It's pretty crazy, and that's why every week is so important here on out. We're just going to keep on trucking along and have faith in ourselves."

There are still six games remaining in the regular season. It is apparent that the timing is off between Flacco and his receivers, and that's strange considering the season is about to enter Week 11.

If the Ravens are to go deep into the playoffs, they are going to need to be able to run the ball and stop it as well. But the postseason is a time when quarterbacks step up and carry a team, much like Flacco did two years ago when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

Flacco showed that form early in this season, and he has to get it back. If not, the Ravens have no chance, not with the way they play in the secondary.

We'll start finding out again in about two weeks. Flacco will have had time to rest, and maybe find himself again after struggling the last three weeks.

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