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The Limitations of Flacco

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Joe Flacco was the only problem for the Jets on offense in their loss to the Ravens on Sunday. There were certainly other culprits. The offensive line played a poor game. The tight ends were invisible.

However, Flacco’s performance was ugly. Even with some stat padding from facing prevent defenses late in the fourth quarter, he averaged only 5.2 yards per attempt.

It goes beyond the raw numbers, though. The path Flacco took to such an inefficient passing day offers insight into how he limits the offense’s upside.

Even in his prime, Flacco was fairly immobile. He is at the point where he seldom can buy any extra time when under pressure to give receivers extra time to get down the field.

It would be one thing if this was the only issue, but it isn’t. Flacco’s performance was ultraconservative. He seemed to have little willingness to challenge Baltimore’s defense at all.

I will offer a few examples.

Here is a play from the early stages of the game. This is where the routes are when Flacco’s back foot hits on his drop.

Whether or not anything more productive was available doesn’t really matter. At the top of his drop, Flacco is just looking at his checkdown as though he’s predetermined that’s where he was going with the football. He ends up just tossing it to his back.

Here’s another play where Flacco is at the top of his drop. There seems to be a window to hit an open Elijah Moore.

Again, though, as his back foot hits, Flacco isn’t scanning the entire field. He is looking squarely at a checkdown he seemingly decided to throw in advance. This is another dumpoff to a running back.

It isn’t just that Flacco predetermines passes short passes to his short outlet. He just seems to be hesitant to pull the trigger. On this play he almost throws to an open Tyler Conklin. There should be plenty of room to float this ball over Patrick Queen, but Flacco pulls the ball down.

He ends up taking a sack.

According to NextGen Stats, Flacco passes averaged 5.3 intended yards in the air, tied with second shortest for Jalen Hurts. Now there’s something to be said for a quarterback who can distribute the ball quickly and get it to his playmakers. However, Flacco averaged 2.78 seconds to throw. That tied him only for 17th. So he was holding onto the ball for a roughly average amount of time but then throwing the ball extremely short. He was neither pushing the ball down the field nor flipping it out to somebody who could take the ball a long way.

Amazingly, only one of Flacco’s 59 passing attempts in this game traveled more than 20 yards in the air.

It was on a play action pass where the linebackers were drawn up.

The Jets left three extra blockers in.

The movement of the linebackers combined with the extra protection gave Flacco a clean pocket and an enormous window.

This seems like the only type of situation where Flacco feels comfortable at this point trying to push the ball down the field. Given the lack of pressure and the window, this was almost a sure thing, the type of throw any quarterback playing in the NFL should be able to make in his sleep.

Of course it would help the Jets if other aspects of their offense were better, but I think it’s important to understand just how much Flacco and his approach limit this offense. Explosive passing plays are pretty much off the table when the quarterback plays like this.

So should Flacco be benched this week? My answer might surprise you.

I think it’s a matter of opinion. Flacco certainly played poorly enough to be benched against Baltimore. In fact, he was so bad that I think you could justify making a change for the sake of trying something new (and I don’t say that lightly).

With that said, the alternative is Mike White. White himself hasn’t exactly looked like a big play quarterback, even in his stellar game against the Bengals last year.

This next game against Cleveland figures to be a low scoring affair with both teams playing backup quarterbacks. It could very well be the type of game that is determined not by an explosive play but by which offense makes the big mistake. On that count, Flacco is arguably the better option. White’s sample size is small, but it’s difficult to ignore the 8 interceptions he threw in just 132 passing attempts in 2021.

Maybe mistake avoidance will be enough for this week. It might have to be for the Jets because they can’t count on Flacco to make anything big happen.