Joe's Woes

Despite Flacco's struggles, coach standing behind his quarterback

October 14, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

A day after Joe Flacco's worst game of his rookie season, Ravens coach John Harbaugh reaffirmed his commitment to him, saying again that he will stick with his first-round pick as the starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

"We believe he's our starter. Joe's our guy," Harbaugh said yesterday. "I'm never a guy that's going to sit up here and say, 'Never ever.' But I don't envision a scenario today where Joe is not going to be our starter this year, save an injury."

Last week, Harbaugh named Flacco the starter for the final three-quarters of the season when he said Troy Smith would have a chance to compete only for the backup job.

But Flacco followed up that vote of confidence by throwing a season-high three interceptions in a 31-3 loss at Indianapolis, the third-largest margin of defeat in the Ravens' 13-year history.

Flacco has now thrown one touchdown pass and seven interceptions, the worst ratio in the NFL.

"[Quarterback] is a very complicated position to play," Harbaugh said. "It's not so basic as speed of the game. There are a number of elements within a play or within a defense that can confuse a quarterback. But I would not categorize him as being confused. I think he's learning."

Flacco's struggles are magnified by the performance of the other quarterback taken in this year's first round, the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan, who is flourishing.

Ryan, who was selected third overall, has completed 57.8 percent of his passes and has averaged 194 passing yards. He is the 17th-rated quarterback in the league (82.9), throwing five touchdown passes and three interceptions.

Flacco, the 18th overall pick, has completed 62.5 percent of his attempts and has averaged 168.8 passing yards. He is the 29th-rated passer in the NFL (60.6).

"Obviously, Joe will be harder on himself than anybody else," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "As players, we have to be behind him and support him through the good and the bad. He understands what he has to do. I don't want this situation to be a hindrance."

Here are the three biggest challenges facing Flacco:

* Reduce turnovers. : Only the San Francisco 49ers' J.T. O'Sullivan has thrown more interceptions this season (eight) than Flacco. In his past two games, Flacco has thrown five picks, averaging one every 11 passes in that rut.

His first interception Sunday was the result of indecisiveness. Flacco threw off balance and after double-clutching.

His second one was the result of poor vision. Flacco threw deep to the left sideline and didn't see the safety flying from the middle of the field to pick off the pass.

His third one was the result of a bad throw. Flacco wildly overthrew running back Ray Rice on a short pass to the flat.

"It's just an issue of him learning from those mistakes," Harbaugh said. "We keep saying that, but we don't want the turnovers next week. We're going to press real hard, and he's going to work hard to make it sooner rather than later."

* Stay healthy. : Flacco was sacked four times Sunday, a number that could be the norm for the final three months of the season. The Ravens' young offensive line likely will be without right guard Marshal Yanda (knee) for the rest of the season and is dealing with two banged-up tackles (Jared Gaither and Adam Terry).

None of the options to address Yanda's void seem strong. Harbaugh speculated the team could replace him with Terry, a lifelong offensive tackle, or Chris Chester, who was recently converted to a tight end.

Is this the line the Ravens want protecting their $30 million investment at quarterback?

"Whoever ends up there is going to have big shoes to fill," Harbaugh said. "The rest of the guys are just going to have to play that much better. Communication is going to be critical, and some of those young guys may have to step up."

* Generate big plays. : In his first five games, Flacco has completed only five passes over 20 yards. His yards per attempt is 5.86, which is 26th in the league.

Harbaugh said the lack of deep throws is a "combination of things." There are times Flacco misses an open receiver. There are times the receivers fail to get open. And there are times Flacco sees the open receiver and can't make the throw because of the pass rush.

As a result, the Ravens' top three receivers - Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams - are averaging a modest 10.3 yards per catch.

In Atlanta, Ryan is routinely making SportsCenter with some big passes downfield. But he has the advantage of throwing to a big-time receiver in Roddy White, who was selected five picks after Clayton in the 2005 draft.

"We have to get better as a team," Flacco said. "It all starts with me on the offensive side of the ball."

Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.

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