Five Things We Learned in the Ravens 30-27 victory over the Cardinals

October 31, 2011|Kevin Van Valkenburg

1. If the Ravens really want to get the most out of Joe Flacco, maybe they should stop trying to mold him into something he's not (a drop back passer) and start playing to more of his strengths. That means putting him in the shotgun, increasing the tempo of the offense, and getting him into a rhythm with short, quick throws.

It was certainly an interesting week in Owings Mills. Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron were under the microscope more than I can ever remember, and I think it would be fair to describe the team's dealings with the media this week as "tense."

Even though the main problems in the first half when the Ravens fell behind 24-3 were the offensive line and the special teams, I briefly wondered if Cameron might not actually be employed by the Ravens come Monday afternoon. I've been saying all season I didn't think the Ravens would fire him during the season under any circumstances, because there doesn't appear to be anyone on staff who could call plays and improve the offense, but I kept picturing Steve Bisciotti sitting in the owner's box with a Bud Light in his hand and steam coming out of his ears.

Let's give Cameron some credit though. Maybe it was ingenuity, or maybe it was desperation, but either way, his decision to put Flacco in the shotgun and make him hustle the offense to the line of scrimmage changed everything about this game. It slowed Arizona's pass rush, it gave Flacco a boost of confidence, and raised the energy level of the entire offense.

I'm not going to pretend I have even a sliver of the football knowledge that Cameron does. But I will say, and I think the Sun's archives would back me up here, that I've been arguing for three years that the Ravens needed to put Flacco in the shotgun more and pick up the tempo of the offense. I don't know why exactly, but he just sees the field better. And when you get him to the line of scrimmage faster, with more time on the play clock, I think it's obvious he has more time to survey the defense and anticipate what they're going to do.

We've spent so much time this year talking about Flacco's flaws -- he's slow when he drops back, he doesn't throw anticipation routes very often, he's occasionally too laid back -- we probably don't talk enough about what he does well. He still has a big strong arm, he's tall enough that he can create his own throwing lanes, and he isn't afraid to get hit as he's releasing the ball. Those are all qualities that seem to come out when he's in the shotgun. Maybe he plays better in the shotgun because it's similar to the system he learned in college at Delaware, and maybe he's just more comfortable doing it because it takes him so long to set up when he drops back from under center. It doesn't really matter why it works, just that it does.

"I think we react well to the hurry-up," Flacco said. "I think it can put a defense on their heels a little bit. I think we can wear them out a little bit. It's tough to rush the passer, rush the passer, and really hold up and continue to get a good pass rush. I think that was a big part of it."

Maybe it won't work in the playoffs, and maybe it won't even work against the Steelers. But the idea that running your offense out of the shotgun and calling out plays at the line of scrimmage is somehow less "manly" and not a "smash mouth" approach worthy of the AFC North football -- I'm just anticipating two tired criticisms here -- is silly. The Steelers run plays out of the shotgun all the time. And if we go outside the division, so do the Patriots. So do the Packers. Tempo, tempo, tempo. I've resisted writing about Flacco's confidence all season, but it soars when get him some easy completions.

The Ravens offensive line still has major, major issues with pass protection, especially on the left side. But for whatever reason, they picked up blitzes better with Flacco in the gun on Sunday. Bryant McKinnie told me the Ravens simplified some protections in the second half and tried to make blocking less complicated. Flacco just looks more comfortable and confident in that formation. (I think it was the best shotgun-related performance in Baltimore since Omar and his crew took down the Barksdale stash house in Season 1 of The Wire.)

It might be time for the Ravens to ride it for awhile and see where it takes them.

2. Terrell Suggs might be the most complete defensive player in the NFL.

I already wrote a little piece about what Suggs' personality means to the Ravens, so for today, let's focus on how good he is technically as a football player. Sure, if you want to nitpick, you can point out that he missed a few sacks on Sunday. But he's proven to be so effective against the run, and so hard to block with just one guy, he's a nightmare for offensive coordinators. I don't think it's a stretch to say this game -- 13 tackles, a sack, four tackles for loss, and a hit on Kevin Kolb that forced an interception -- was definitely one of his best performances as a Raven.

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