Reviewing Flacco’s Performance in the Blizzard Bowl
Joe had a mixed day against the Vikings, throwing three costly interceptions but also finding the end zone three times, including a beautiful touchdown pass to Marlon Brown to secure a rather unlikely victory. I went to the tape to see what was working for the Ravens quarterback – and also what went wrong on those three turnovers.
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The Ravens are in a tight trips formation with Flacco in the pistol in front of HB Bernard Pierce. Torrey Smith is split wide left. The play call is hi-lo crossers with a hitch/flat combo on the right and Pierce running a wheel route up the left side. Pierce’s route is in red here because he was eventually the target of the pass, but he was most definitely not the primary read.
Trouble started early on this play. The “hi” route in the hi-lo crossers gets chipped by a linebacker and goes flying on the slick turf. You can see Torrey Smith adjusting his route in this image. He ends up running around his fallen teammate, giving the coverage plenty of time to account for him.
Then, the flat receiver also goes tumbling to the ground.
Joe ends up making an awful decision to throw it up to Bernard Pierce along the left sideline. It’s a terrible, indecisive throw – Joe basically flicks his wrist and lets the ball hang in the air. He puts nothing behind it and the ball never makes it to Pierce – who should not be on the receiving end of desperation jump balls to begin with.
And if that’s not enough, just look at the visibility in the image below. Can you even tell which team is which?
This was one the worst throws Joe made in the entire game, if not in the last month.
Joe’s second interception of the game came near the end of the third quarter, with the Ravens clinging to a fragile 7-6 lead.
The Ravens come out with an empty backfield. You may recall the “Sail” concept I discussed last week. This “Tare” concept is a similar look. The receiver at the bottom of the image is going to run a clear route while the other four receivers flood the right side of the field (with two quick outs and two posts). Dickson will be the eventual target of Flacco’s pass.
Unfortunately, the blocking breaks down quickly. Michael Oher gives up inside leverage to DE Brian Robison, which allows DT Shariff Floyd to loop around into the open field.
Oher can’t recover quickly enough, and Floyd is suddenly in Flacco’s face. Flacco throws an awful, off-balance pass to Dickson. As you can see in the image, Flacco side-arms the ball with all of his weight falling away from the throw. This pass was begging to be intercepted, and, not surprisingly, Dickson’s man undercut the route and intercepted this one.
Joe’s final interception came midway through the fourth quarter with Baltimore trailing 12-7. The Ravens are in their 11 personnel but TE Dennis Pitta is lined up as an extra sidecar beside Flacco in the shotgun.
The play is a half-field read (to the right), and the receivers are attacking at all three levels. Pitta releases into the flat, Marlon Brown runs a deep out, and Jacoby Jones runs a fade route. Flacco will look to the right-side safety and CB to see where to throw.
After the snap, DT Kyle Williams gets pressure on Flacco almost immediately. However, this is a rhythm pass, where Flacco throws as soon as his back foot hits at the end of his drop. The quick release negates the good interior pressure from Williams.
Unfortunately, the ball is underthrown to Jacoby Jones. The conditions may be partially to blame in this instance, but underthrown balls on 9 routes have been a problem all year. The receivers have been forced to peel back and try to make plays on throws that are way behind them. In this instance, Jacoby does a good job of moving his body, and he has good position against CB Marcus Sherels.
But the ball bounces out of Jacoby’s hand and into Sherels’s, who bobbles it a few times before securing the interception. This one is still on Flacco for an underthrown ball, but Jacoby had a chance to haul it in and didn’t.
Joe’s first touchdown throw came on the heels of a Matt Elam fumble recovery and then a long run by the quarterback himself. The situation is 3rd and goal on the 1-yard line.
The Ravens line up in a jumbo set with, for all intents and purposes, four tackles on the field, plus tight end Ed Dickson and FB Vonta Leach. The Minnesota defense is clearly thinking run, as all 11 defenders are either on or crowding the line.
The Ravens are going to give ’em what they want, running play action to Bernard Pierce. The call is PA Iso Strong Lead. Leach is going to fake like he’s leading through the right A gap then break off into the flat. Pierce is going to fake like he’s following then hold up and block for Flacco. Finally, Dickson is going to run a corner route.
The defense is buying everything the Ravens are selling here. Almost every defender has his eyes on Pierce, while Dickson slips unnoticed into the endzone. The line is also providing solid blocking. Look at Gradkowski’s crucial block just to the left of where Flacco and Pierce are faking the hand-off. If this block gets blown up, the result is a sack.
Finally, Dickson is wide open, and the result is an easy pitch-and-catch for the game’s first score. Nothing spectacular here from Flacco. Caldwell deserves most of the credit, dialing up the perfect play to fool the defense and get the Ravens seven points.
On fourth and 1 from the one-yard line, with just 2:07 left to play, the Ravens scored the go-ahead touchdown.
The Ravens are lined up in their empty-backfield set. Just as they did on Flacco’s second int, the Ravens are going to use the “Tare” concept to get this touchdown. The quick-hitting route is tough to defend, especially with Pitta and Brown, two big bodies, running the quick outs.
Flacco looks to Pitta the whole way. A little juke move is all Pitta needs to get a step on the defender, and from there it’s all but over.
Flacco sticks the throw to take a 13-12 lead. However, it isn’t the final go-ahead touchdown that Joe would throw in this game.
Obviously, we all remember Joe’s final touchdown: a beautiful pass to Marlon Brown in the back of the endzone with just 10 seconds left on the clock, Ravens down by four. How were the Ravens able to punch it in and secure an unlikely victory against Minnesota? Let’s take a look.
Minnesota is in Tampa-2, and as you can see, their MLB, rookie Audie Cole, is tasked with dropping into a deep zone in the middle of the endzone.
TE Dennis Pitta chips one of the rushers before releasing into the flat. Jacoby Jones runs a post route, Torrey runs a corner route and Marlon Brown is going to run a seam route right past the safety and into Cole’s zone.
Safety Andrew Sendejo tries to undercut the seam route while Audie Cole positions himself in front of Brown. There’s not much room left, but Joe throws Marlon open just behind and to the right of Cole.
Only a perfect pass results in a completion here, and even then it’s a tough catch. In the image below, you can see that Marlon did have some separation, but the ball just barely makes it above Cole’s outstretched hand. Marlon shows very good body control and gets both feet in for the game-winning touchdown.