Here is a question that was brought up often during the Cam Cameron era of Ravens offenses here in Baltimore. When will Joe Flacco have the freedom to make audibles on his own? During the 2012 season, the Ravens executed a “Sugar Huddle” offense that was up tempo, and didn’t allow defenses to make necessary changes on their side of the ball. Flacco was able to make the reads and adjust the calls accordingly. A huge advantage for the Ravens and Flacco executed it well en route to a 9-2 start on the season.
There were some struggles and other factors that contributed to a few losses, and ones that ultimately led to Cameron losing his job and the Ravens stumbling into the playoffs. However, Flacco turned in a Joe Montanaesque postseason performance with Jim Caldwell at the helm, the rest is history.
For an inexplicable reason, the Ravens handcuffed Joe Flacco once again in 2013. Paying him big time dollars and fresh off a Championship, the Caldwell run offense was anemic, predictable, slow tempo, plain, uncreative, etc… Why get away from what worked? For what it’s worth, in the final two minutes of a half (when QBs are in the hurry up) for the 2013 season, Joe Flacco was 47 for 75 (62.7%) and 7.2 yards per attempt. Any other time of the game, when Flacco was at the mercy of Caldwell’s orders, 315 for 539 (58.4%) and 6.25 Y/A. Flacco also led four game winning drives in 2013. If staying in an up tempo mode throughout led to 7.2 YA, that would have been a 4,400+ yard season for Joe.
The Ravens brass overhauled the offensive coaching staff nearly from top to bottom this offseason. Enter new play caller with a brand new system for Flacco’s Ravens, Gary Kubiak. No question Kubiak knows how to draw up an offense. We’ve broken down his past performances a number of times here.
Despite all of the changes that on the surface are for the better, including scheme fit and new additions, will Flacco still be at the mercy of Kubiak’s play calls? How much freedom does he get to alter the plan?
I searched around the web and found some interesting tidbits from Kubiak’s time in Houston pertaining to this exact situation that could hinder the offense in the upcoming season. Matt Schaub has the dubious honor of throwing pick-sixes in four straight games last year, and one of them was a fourth quarter INT return by the Seahawks Richard Sherman, the best CB in the game right now.
Dave Zangaro of CSN Houston noted that on the play which was a designed bootleg, Seattle safety Kam Chancellor was a pass rusher coming off the same side the Schaub rolled out towards. Normally a QB that picks this up would alter the play so his rollout would go to the other side, away from obvious pressure. In the postgame presser, Kubiak was asked if Schaub had the freedom to change that play. He replied, “No, once we called it, started the motion, it was game on. So we just had a very, very poor play like I told you.”
Here’s the play in question. 3rd and 4 from the SEA 40 with 2:51 left in the game. Texans up 7 and have all three time outs. A first down here gets them into FG range. Houston can make it a two score game taking a miracle for the Seahawks to come back and win. Play clock was down to :08 at the snap, plenty of time for Schaub to make a change if he had the control. Furthermore, Kubiak knows the play and the direction, and knows Schaub won’t alter it. So when Chancellor cheats up on the line, he needs to call a timeout given the situation when a first down can essentially win you the game. It is the most important play of the game up to this point. Leave nothing to chance.
Now that Matt Schaub is an Oakland Raider, he’s excited to be in a system that will allow him to make the necessary changes. To do the things a quarterback is supposed to do. Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News quoted Texans Radio Analyst and former Heisman Trophy winner, Andre Ware, who said that being unable to audible in Kubiak’s system is “like playing with one arm tied behind your back.”
Matt Schaub had this to say about transition to Oakland and being given the freedom he never had in Houston. “I’ll want to come in and take control of the huddle. That’s the job of the quarterback. It’s up to me to set a standard for how our offense is going to operate, how we’re going to work and how we’re going to prepare. You’ve got to demand that out of the guys in the huddle with you.”
I know what some of you are thinking. Joe Flacco is better than Matt Schaub. Well last year both were very poor. Overall, sure I’ll take Joe and his skills over Schaub any day. Kubiak was willing to stick with Schaub as long as he could. He rode him all the way until it cost him his job and Case Kennum was then anointed the starting job as the season came to a close. He believed in Schaub, but not enough to give him the keys to the car. Kubiak seems to be excited about Joe Flacco early on in their relationship here. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be Flacco’s show on game day.
This will be one of the things I’m going to pay close attention to when training camp and the preseason begins. How much control will Flacco have? If none, it’s not because he isn’t good enough, because Flacco has proven in the past he can handle the larger responsibility.
To be brutally honest, defenses make adjustments based on what they see at line. If offensive coordinators aren’t allowing their unit to do the same, it’s just dumb football. Let’s hope Kubiak can provide Flacco the tools he needs to succeed, but then hope he can get out of his own way.