Up one week, and down the next. That's the type of season that it's been for the Baltimore Ravens and their often-criticized 11th-year veteran QB Joe Flacco, heading into this upcoming weekend's contest between his team and the Saints, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:05 p.m, Central time.
After they were stunned and embarrassed following a 12-9 upset loss to the Cleveland Browns only two weeks ago, this past Sunday Flacco completed 25 of 37 passing attempts for 238 yards, a touchdown and an interception in Baltimore's 21-0 win over the Tennessee Titans. He added four yards on three rushing attempts.
With the win, the (4-2) Ravens moved into a 1st place-tie with the Cincinnati Bengals (also 4-2) within the AFC North Division; and with the momentum firmly behind them after last week's impressive victory, are looking to continue that recent success at the expense of the Black and Gold this coming Sunday.
However, it may come as bit of a surprise to some while considering the method in which Baltimore normally wins games (with their annually-ranked top defense), that this season their preferred weapon of choice is actually Flacco's arm.
As noted by ESPN Ravens beat writer Jamison Hensley, Flacco is on pace to throw 726 passes this season, which is one shy of the NFL single-season record set by current Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford in 2012.
But as Hensley is quick to caution: League history and Flacco's track record suggest that Baltimore can't keep winning, with Flacco averaging 45 throws per game.
With that win over Tennessee, Flacco now has a record of 9-22 (.290) when passing 45 or more times in a game. Over the past five years, only 10 quarterbacks have reached the postseason after finishing the season in the top five in pass attempts.
Additionally, Baltimore is throwing the ball on 64 percent (nearly 2/3) of its plays. In comparison, the Ravens passed 57 percent of the time last season.
In 6 games thus far, Flacco has completed 164 out of 264 passes for 1,788 yards, with 9 TD passes and 4 interceptions, and a completion percentage of 62%. Flacco has been sacked a total of 11 times, which currently has the Baltimore O-Line tied for 8th overall in the League (12 sacks given up total) in that department.
"Sometimes you don’t even realize until you look up at the end that you’ve thrown that many times," Flacco told Hensley in their sit-down interview last week. "In this day and age, 40 pass attempts is almost normal."
Flacco has thrown for more than 26,000 yards and 150 touchdowns in his career, and like Drew Brees has done for the Saints, has also led his franchise to a Super Bowl victory when the Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII after the 2012 NFL season.
And yet, Flacco still remains as one of the more scrutinized and often-criticized QB's in the entire League, despite all of his notable success.
In complete fairness to the former University of Delaware star, one would likely believe that Flacco is an above average quarterback that has gotten a lot of grief for accepting too much of the blame for Baltimore's shortcomings, than he should have.
Their offensive line particularly in the last few seasons has been mediocre to somewhat below average at best, and with the departures in their run game of names such as Justin Forsett and Terrence West, their capability to run the ball effectively has been nonexistent at times despite the presence of 3rd-year RB Alex Collins.
In their 4 wins thus far, Flacco has largely looked good all season because he’s been able to spread the ball around and has gotten good play from his wide receivers — most of whom are all brand new to the Ravens offense.
However, when Flacco is having an "off day" or when he gets hit, pressured, hurried or sacked frequently at any point during a game, he seemingly always reverts to making poor decisions and forcing his throws into coverage downfield.
Bottom line: as is normally the case with many NFL QB's, if you hit and pressure them enough times, it quite often can lead them to commit a rather critical mistake — and sometimes even at the most inopportune of moments or situation.
And it's for that very reason that the Saints D-Line needs to "go wacko" on Flacco this coming Sunday — which would come right on the heels of their season-best performance against the Redskins.
It was only just a little bit over a week ago, when the Saints D-Line (as in every one of them) was ALL OVER the Redskins offense and their QB Alex Smith, as the unit limited the Redskins offense to a grand total of only just 283 yards, and plenty of that came late in the 2nd half with the game well out of hand.
And they clearly were able to disrupt his rhythm and timing as they sacked him three times and hit him often (for what seemed to be nearly every single play) in the pocket on plenty of other occasions.
Smith ended up completing 23 of 39 passes for 275 yards and an interception. He also rushed twice for seven yards and a touchdown, but lost a fumble as well.
It was that very same type of play on defense that the Saints made often last season during the height of their success, and it was certainly a great sign going forward for the defensive unit after their notable early-season struggles in the first few games, despite their winning (4-1) record.
Nevertheless, don't expect Baltimore to alter much — if anything at all — for this Sunday's contest.
The Ravens blueprint for success is simple enough: score as many points on offense possible, and then let the #1 ranked defense in the NFL protect the lead until time finally runs out on the game clock.
But this year so far that blueprint has been somewhat altered, thanks to Flacco's brand-new starting WR corps (speed-demon John Brown, veteran Michael Crabtree, and former Saints WR Willie Snead); which ranks among the League's very best.
And if for some reason the Saints aren't able to generate adequate pressure, it could give New Orleans some slight difficulty with getting off the field on 3rd Down.
That's also assuming of course, that Baltimore can allow him the time that's needed to accurately throw the football.
If the starting line-ups remain the same as they have in previous games, then it likely will mean that blazing-fast 5th year Ravens WR John Brown will be matched up one-on-one with Saints CB Ken Crawley; which could become one of the match-ups that ultimately will determine the game's final outcome.
Brown is not only just viewed as Baltimore's deep threat, but he also happens to be a good route runner and can turn a quick reception into a huge YAC (yards after the catch) opportunity if the Saints defense isn’t careful.
And even though they've shown some improvement recently, the Saints secondary has had some rather questionable safety and cornerback play earlier in the season previously.
Which means that the thought of placing bracket-coverage (double coverage on a single receiver) on Brown really might not be the worst idea that Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen could or would ever have.
Even if Brown does manage to lure the Saints secondary into devoting too much of their collective attention towards covering him, it likely would then free up Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and which ever one of the various tight ends (including rookie Hayden Hurst) at Flacco's disposal, in the Baltimore passing attack.
In a nutshell, the Ravens can do some serious damage when they want to; and as it usually is for most "good" to "really good" NFL teams, it all basically comes down to simple execution — or in the case of the team that ends up losing: a lack of said execution.
However, that only happens if the Saints D-Line isn't able to generate any pressure on the veteran gunslinger.
But if they do?