Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco talks about his new Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and the small changes to the offense. (Baltimore Sun video)
With his new offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, standing about 10 yards behind him, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco launched a deep pass after practice Wednesday that wide receiver Breshad Perriman ran under and caught in stride.
As both Mornhinweg and backup quarterback Ryan Mallett threw their hands up in the air to signify a touchdown and the end of the post-practice throwing session, Flacco stoically turned around and headed toward the podium, where reporters were waiting.
For about six minutes, Flacco fielded questions and gave clipped answers in a hushed tone. He didn't say a whole lot about Monday's firing of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, but he did make clear that he felt the responsibility for it not working out.
"I'm the guy. If there is a guy to look at, it's the quarterback," Flacco said. "That is where a lot of that comes from."
Flacco said he spoke to Trestman on Tuesday, and it was a difficult conversation because the two had developed a good relationship over the past two seasons. He said his initial reaction to hearing the news was disappointment that the offense had played poorly enough that Ravens coach John Harbaugh felt a change was needed.
"I feel bad that we haven't been who we wanted to be," Flacco said. "We definitely need to be better than we are."
Flacco, who is now working with his fifth offensive coordinator in as many seasons, didn't endorse the firing of Trestman, nor did he dispute it. The consensus, though, around the Ravens' locker room Wednesday was that a change was necessary with the Ravens' offense ranked 22nd in the NFL and mired in a deep slump as it prepares for Sunday's game against the New York Giants (2-3).
"Marc Trestman is a great guy, a great coach. It was difficult to see him go, but I think it was something that this offense needed," said Ravens veteran tight end Dennis Pitta, Flacco's closest friend on the team. "We were in kind of a bad place. It didn't seem like we were getting out of it. Hopefully, this will spark us. Marty is a great coach, and we have a lot of faith in him. He brings an energy and an excitement to our offense that we needed."
Wide receiver Kamar Aiken expressed hope that Mornhinweg will give the wide receivers more wiggle room on their routes. Mike Wallace expressed confidence that if more deep shots were called, the Ravens have the personnel to make big plays. A number of players spoke about the importance of getting back to a more balanced offense that features the running game.
Ultimately, a failure to establish and maintain a running game — the Ravens had a franchise-low in rushing attempts last year and currently rank 22nd in rushes per game — and create big plays down the field figured prominently in Trestman's undoing.
As the Ravens' quarterbacks coach since the beginning of last season, Mornhinweg, a former offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets, is certainly cognizant of the offense's issues. His most important task, though, is making things easier on Flacco, who in recent weeks has looked frustrated and confused with the direction of the Ravens offense.
"I just got a sense, the way his body language is, and the way he was talking, that he was real frustrated with how things were going, and for good reason," said former NFL quarterback Steve Beuerlein who sat down with Flacco before the Ravens' loss to the Oakland Raiders this month as part of his broadcasting responsibilities for the NFL on CBS. "He didn't say anything, he didn't throw anybody under the bus. There were just a couple of moments where I sat there and thought to myself, 'He's really frustrated. He's struggling right now." It is showing on the field. It's not just him. It's the way the whole offense is running."
Beuerlein defended Flacco, saying he believes the nine-year veteran is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he gets in rhythm. The problem has been that Flacco has never really reached that point this season, and at times, he's morphed into a dink-and-dunk passer, which contrasts with his strong arm and aggressive mentality.
Flacco's 216 pass attempts lead the NFL, but he's averaging just 5.9 yards per attempt. The only quarterback with a lower number is San Francisco's Blaine Gabbert, who was just benched for Colin Kaepernick. While Flacco is first in passing attempts, he's just 11th in passing yards with 1,282 — an indication of how inefficient the Ravens' passing game has been.
"He's thrown an incredible amount of passes," Beuerlein said. "I think he understands that it's important to have a balanced offense and to do things that kind of accent the strengths of the football team and I don't know he felt that was happening under Trestman, at least this year. I think one of the things that Marty really needs to do is just focus on getting Joe back to a good place mentally, where he feels good about where things are progressing and heading, and let Joe maybe have some input in what they are doing and what he feels good about, and the things he wants to see maybe emphasized more so he can kind of take some ownership into it."
Flacco certainly isn't blameless, nor are his teammates. The offensive line has struggled mightily and allowed 23 quarterback hurries in the Ravens' loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens' receivers have had the opportunities for several big plays go right through their hands.
"It's execution, it's concepts, it's a whole bunch of things," Aiken said. "I wouldn't say that it's just Trestman. There were some plays that we probably could have made and didn't."
Flacco has also missed several makeable throws and failed to step up in the pocket on other occasions. Recently, he seems to be morphing back into bad habits and throwing off his back foot too often. Sometimes, Flacco said, it's been out of necessity. Other times, he acknowledged his mechanics are breaking down.
"There have been definitely times with that, yeah," Flacco said. "I can think of one throw that I missed to Crockett [Gillmore] in Sunday's game. When you have guys flying at you, sometimes you're just trying to find soft spots in the pocket to throw the ball. I would say every quarterback deals with that a little bit."
Some of Flacco's early-season struggles had to be expected. The Ravens have a revamped offensive line and a couple of new targets on the outside. Flacco is also only about 10 months removed from having surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. Beuerlein believes not enough has been made of the difficult physical adjustments Flacco has had to make, including wearing a knee brace, and of the effects of losing most of the offseason to rehab.
Flacco hasn't used the health of his knee as an excuse, nor has he publicly blamed Trestman for some of his issues. The Ravens, though, believed something needed to change, and they certainly need their franchise quarterback to play better. The hope is that the promotion of Mornhinweg is a step toward that.
"I do think everybody is responsible for putting the quarterback, especially, in a position to be as good as he can be," Harbaugh said. "That's the whole key to the thing in the end, how good your quarterback plays."