Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco isn't really struggling, but he isn't comfortable yet.
Six games into the season, Flacco and the offense have played well enough to win but not well enough to carry the team. The team lacks bona fide playmakers on offense, but the Ravens also need to change the pace of the game.
The Ravens have to speed it up, not only in the two-minute drill but in the base offense. When Flacco was told that two NFL assistant coaches had noticed the slower pace of the offense from a year ago had a negative effect, the eighth-year quarterback agreed.
"Last year's offense was at a faster pace and it was more detailed," Flacco said. "We have a new coordinator, some new plays and a new system. Some things have changed."
When asked if the pace would quicken, Flacco said: "Definitely, once I know more how [offensive coordinator Marc Trestman] thinks and what he wants, then we'll be at a faster pace. Last year, I knew our guys and we'd just call a play and move quickly. "
According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens rank 15th in the NFL in getting off a play every 27.64 seconds in the first half, and third with a new play every 23.8 seconds in the second half. The rate increases in the second half because the Ravens can't hold leads and often have to go to a hurry-up offense.
The real problem, especially in the first half, is that Flacco is a rhythm quarterback. Once he finds it, he can get hot and take over a game. But this season, Flacco really hasn't gotten into that type of zone.
When both Jim Caldwell and Gary Kubiak were Ravens offensive coordinators, they always emphasized pace in practice. They wanted the Ravens to get in and out of the huddle quickly, and to the line of scrimmage.
They wanted Flacco and the offense in sync.
"I think the biggest thing is, probably, I wish I was a little more comfortable than I probably am, but we're dealing with getting different guys in there and shuffling this guy in, this guy out," Flacco said. "We've had to deal with some things, and that's just the nature of it. I have to hone in a little bit more just to make up for some of that stuff."
Flacco doesn't appear to have that easy throwing motion of a year ago, when he was confident where he was going with the ball. His mechanics have been off more this year, throwing without his back foot being planted.
In 2014, Flacco completed 140 of 219 passes for 1,596 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions through six games. In his first six games this season, Flacco has completed 154 of 247 attempts for 1,605 yards and eight touchdowns. His seven interceptions this season have come at critical times, helping cost the Ravens games and momentum.
Part of the problem has been the lack of quality receivers. With new starters like Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and Jeremy Ross, the pace on offense has been more deliberate.
"I have to rise up and make sure I can just be that much better each day, so that we're still working toward improvement and going out there and being a little bit more consistent and crisp and detailing all the little things," Flacco said. "When you have a lot of guys out there that you've played with for a while, the details you tend to be on top of. But when you're playing with some different guys — and you're shuffling this guy in, this guy out — you have to make sure that you're on top of those details. We have to continue to work at that and get better."
Flacco said he isn't pressured to make plays because of the lack of playmakers. Some of his interceptions have come where he has thrown to the wrong shoulder of a receiver, or the receiver zigged when he should have zagged.
The second one against the San Francisco 49ers last week was horrendous, simply inexcusable. But the Ravens know that if they want to get Flacco better, he has to find that rhythm.
The pace has to quicken.
"I don't think it's a problem. I think it's a way of doing business," Trestman said. "We've done some of that, certainly, during the season and some of our better drives have come at an up-tempo pace. We make decisions with that as we go along, but certainly the indications are that we've just got to move the pace just a little bit quicker, get people in and out of the huddle quicker, get to the line of scrimmage quicker, and I think we will get that done."
A quicker pace also forces the opposing defensive coordinator into quicker decisions as far as alignment and personnel. That increases the chance for a mistake and bigger play.
The Ravens are in a Catch-22 here. A faster pace might mean playing time on the field for their 25th-ranked defense. The great combination is an up-tempo offense and a top-rated defense.
But the Ravens have to cater to Flacco. Along with Steve Smith Sr., he is the only other playmaker on the team. This team has to score touchdowns, not settle for field goals.
"I think you're always trying to make plays here and there, and obviously, take what the defense gives you," Flacco said. "But there's going to be opportunities for you to go out there and make plays, and that's what you have to do as an NFL player. Everybody goes out there on Sunday and makes some kind of play. I don't necessarily think you look to do that. The opportunities present themselves and it happens."
For Flacco, it's really about a quicker pace. His history here in Baltimore shows he has always flourished in those situations, and it appears that hasn't changed.