Joe Flacco's ability to throw the ball fast, firm and far… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
With his season on the line and the careers of some of his Ravens teammates hanging in the balance, Joe Flacco stepped up in the pocket, swiveled his hips, uncorked his 6-foot-6 frame and launched the football.
Denver Broncos safety Rahim Moore backpedaled and backpedaled as the ball floated through the bitter-cold Denver air and over his head. Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones opened his eyes wide as the pass somehow reached him, 20 yards from the end zone and 55 yards from where Flacco released it.
"That ball dropped out of the sky. And there was only one place the ball could be caught," said ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, who played quarterback in the NFL for 15 years. "That was certainly one of the most remarkable throws in Ravens history and one of the best throws I've ever seen."
That game-tying touchdown in the AFC divisional round Jan. 20 saved the Ravens' season and set up their Super Bowl win three weeks later. The throw also reinforced what many players, coaches and analysts have been saying since 2008: Flacco has one of the most powerful arms in the NFL.
"I don't think there's a quarterback that I have ever seen that could have made that throw," Jaworski said.
Dating to his high school days, the lanky quarterback has inspired tall tales with his rocket right arm. When the Ravens first got a glimpse of it, they knew they could construct their offense around it. With his elite arm strength, Flacco can attack defenses vertically and from sideline to sideline, challenging opponents to cover the entire field. With defensive backs wary of deep passes, shorter throws are easier to complete and opportunities emerge for the Ravens' running backs.
"We all knew he had a cannon," said Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who was with the Broncos last year and let Flacco slip out of his grasp before his miracle pass. "When a naturally strong arm starts to create way more accuracy, it just gets really dangerous. So when you've got that combination, it's pretty scary."
More than a strong arm
A decade ago, college football scouts came to Audubon, N.J., to check out Flacco, who was already 6 feet 3 in high school.
Baseball scouts came to Audubon to watch Flacco, too, whose fastball topped out at 90 mph, but they knew his future was in football.
"His arm strength, he had that in high school. You could see it in football," said Rich Horan, Flacco's high school baseball coach and an assistant football coach at Audubon. "I remember one time, we were waiting for the special teams to come out, and he was standing on our own 40-yard line and threw the ball through the uprights."
Flacco's father, Steve, always worked with Joe on his mechanics. But Flacco said before his rookie season in 2008 that "I never actually thought about my delivery." It is something Flacco still downplays today.
But according to John Brenkus, the host of ESPN's "Sport Science," it is Flacco's refined technique that allows him to have success despite being the NFL's tallest starting quarterback.
"[His height] actually puts the burden on him that he needs to be more efficient, because the longer a chain is, the greater the probability that something could go wrong," Brenkus said. "But at the same time, if it is an efficient chain, his arm is moving faster at the end of the chain than a shorter quarterback with shorter arms.
"You can think of it as a whip. The longer the whip is, if you don't snap it right, it is going to fizzle out at the end. But if you're snapping it correctly, it's even faster by the end of the whip."
And like a whip, being on the receiving end of Flacco's passes can sting.
"You've always got to make sure you have your hands at the right angles," Ravens tight end Ed Dickson said. "If you don't, you're definitely going to break your fingers dealing with Joe. And Joe is going to show no remorse."
Fellow tight end Dennis Pitta said Flacco knows when to use his fastball and when to take some pace off the ball. He believes Flacco's touch is what makes him a great quarterback.
"The last thing you want as a receiver is to be running 5 yards away from the quarterback and him throwing it like you're 20 yards away," he said.
Flacco's ability to throw the ball fast, firm and far is more than just arm strength, though. Throwing power originates from the ground, and muscles from the toes to the fingertips are used.
The smallest of tweaks can make a difference. For example, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, Flacco's former quarterbacks coach, worked with him to improve his knee flexion last season. Bending his knees more benefited Flacco, particularly in the playoffs.
Brenkus said Flacco's kinetic-linking chain is one of the most efficient in the NFL. His release time takes roughly .37 of a second, which is about .03 of a second faster than the NFL average. And when the ball leaves his hand, it can travel 18 yards in about two-thirds of a second. He has been clocked throwing a football at more than 60mph.