by Ryan Singletary
Joe Flacco threw for his first 4,000 yard season on a career best 64.9 completion percentage. This is a mark he’s previously flirted with several times, and he’s the first Raven to pass 4,000 yards since Vinny Testaverde in the Ravens inaugural season back in 1996. However, after looking through his career statistics, there appears to be pretty clear indicators that this is not a mark Ravens fans would prefer to see him hit again.
The table below illustrates my point. When Joe’s average attempts per game for a season exceed 35att/gm, the Ravens miss the playoffs. There are several important factors and one interesting nonfactor explored below, but the bottom line is the Ravens have a worse season the more they air it out through no fault of Joe’s.
Regular season stats only.
Legend: RPG – Rush Attempts Per Game, PPG – Pass Attempts Per Game, D Y/g – Defensive Total Yards Allowed Per Game, D PA/g – Defensive Points Allowed Per Game
Disclaimer: There are a great number of things that go into winning a football game and even more to making the playoffs. I am analyzing an interesting correlation not a root cause.
Joe has been the definition of an iron man only missing six games in his entire career due to a torn ACL last season. While his status as elite is unquestionable, his usage numbers through his career may raise some eyebrows. Through his first five seasons, Joe Cool averaged 31.1 attempts per game. During this time, the Ravens as a team consistently ranked near the back third of the league in total pass attempts per game. They also ranked in the top ten for rush attempts per game with the only exception being a near miss in 2012 when they went on to win the Super Bowl. The Ravens made the playoffs each of these years, and Joe’s completion percentage hovered around 60.6%.
In comparison, Joe has averaged 39.1 pass attempts per game in his last four seasons. The 8 pass attempts per game mark a stark difference in the outcomes of the two group’s seasons. During this time, the Ravens offense’s pass attempts per game ranked in the top ten every year except the year they made the playoffs. Their rushing offense’s rush attempts per game ranked in the back third with the exception again being the year they made the playoffs. Joe’s completion percentage during this time actually rose to 62.6%. With the exception of two aging free agent pickups in Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wallace, the Ravens wide receiving group has not warranted an 8 pass attempts per game increase.
The first thought is that the Ravens are throwing more in seasons where the defense is subpar and forcing the offense to play catch-up. However, that’s an interesting nonfactor as illustrated in the table. The Ravens defense has been consistently good, if not elite, with the exception of the injury riddled 2014 season. To illustrate that further, their second worst season was the Super Bowl winning 2012 campaign due to injuries in the regular season. The Ravens have also had five different offensive coordinators handling the play calling during Joe’s elite nine season career. That’s certainly going to have an impact, but Joe has actually improved his completion percentage since entering the offensive coordinator carousel where he also registered his highest average QBR (Quarterback Rating) and passing touchdowns for a season during Gary Kubiak’s one year in Baltimore. Kubiak was the last OC to take the Ravens to the playoffs, and his system saw Joe return to below 35 pass attempts per game and the team’s rush attempts ranked higher than the team’s pass attempts. The problem is Flacco is improving and the rest of the offense is stagnating or worse including the coaching staff and leaning on him more and more. The Ravens are in desperate need of an offensive coordinator that won’t abandon the run game and puts the opponent’s defense in a position to be exploited by Joe. We’ll all see what a complete Mornhinweg system looks like this coming season.
The Ravens have derived their success from black and blue football. That’s tough defense and a hard run game. They have lost part of that identity through a combination of below average running backs, inconsistent offensive line personnel, and a constant stream of new OC’s. With Joe’s arm, the Ravens should be able to stretch a defense and run all over them. Until we get back to valuing the run as more than just a means to keep the defense honest, the Ravens will be fighting for a winning season let alone a playoff berth.