Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco finds new focus with Kubiak offense

Under Kubiak, QB has new priorities, including minding his footwork

September 05, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

The process of fixing what ailed Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco didn't start with his right arm, his eyes or what's between his ears. It began with his feet.

Flacco and the rest of the team's passers started nearly every day of training camp with a drill in which they high-stepped over and around cones while keeping their eyes downfield. The message was sent early that to quarterback a Gary Kubiak offense, they had better perfect their footwork.

“It's kind of the way I teach guys to read,” Kubiak said. “We teach guys to go through progressions with what their feet are doing, not necessarily what their eyes are doing. It's been a point of emphasis. We have to get the ball going out quicker, cut down on the sacks, all of those things. Joe's bought into it. He's been really good.”

The success of the Ravens' 2014 season will depend largely on Flacco's ability to pick up the team's new West Coast offense and avoid the kind of mistakes he made during the 2013 season, the most disappointing of his career. He threw a franchise-record 22 interceptions, completed just 59 percent of his passes, compiled a career-low 73.1 quarterback rating and was sacked 48 times.

But under Kubiak, the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player has gotten a clean slate and a revised set of responsibilities. He has been given a new weapon in veteran wide receiver Steve Smith and figures to benefit greatly from a retooled running game and offensive line.

“Everything definitely has a nice bit of freshness to it,” Flacco said. “It makes things exciting, and it focuses you in because it's all new. But I like it. Everything in this offense is black and white. There is a right and there is a wrong. That makes it very easy for me to go out there and operate. I know exactly what to do. I know what option is right. There are not three options that are right. There is one, and the others are all wrong.”

Flacco is coming off a solid preseason as he completed 29 of 45 passes, threw two touchdowns and no interceptions, and led the starting offense to points on six of 12 possessions. As he prepares to start his seventh consecutive season opener, many around the NFL think Flacco is headed for a bounce-back year.

Kubiak “is going to do wonders for Joe Flacco's career,” said former Ravens and Denver Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe, who played under Kubiak. “This offense is tailor-made for Joe Flacco.”

Sharpe said Kubiak's insistence on establishing the running game should open things up for Flacco, who loves taking deep shots, and the play-action passing game should create room and space in the middle of the field. Ravens officials have long believed Flacco is a better athlete than given credit for, and he'll now get to show that with a variety of bootlegs and rollouts.

“Just the style that Coach Kubiak brings, I think it suits Joe's skill set really well,” said Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Schaub, who was with Kubiak in Houston for seven seasons. “Joe's able to move around a little bit. He's got a strong arm, so he can push it down the field with some of the weapons that they have. Also, he can throw the quick game, and the type of reads that he's going to be asked to go through are ones that he's been exposed to before. It's going to be a good transition for Joe. I think it's going to help him take the next step.”

Looking ahead

The longest offseason of his career provided plenty of opportunities for Flacco to look back. Some days, after his workouts were complete and his fatherly duties were taken care of, Flacco popped in game tape from the 2013 season. He watched his five-interception game against the Buffalo Bills and his three-interception performance versus the Cincinnati Bengals that ensured the Ravens would miss the playoffs for the first time in his career.

“We didn't get a lot going, and I was trying to make some plays here and there, and I gave the ball away too much,” he said, summarizing his primary takeaway from the 8-8 season.

His 22 interceptions were second most in the NFL and 10 more than he had thrown in any other season. Decision-making and accuracy were factors as Flacco tried to fit too many balls into tight windows, especially in the middle of the field. He held the ball too long at times, and he seldom appeared to be on the same page with his receivers. Known as one of the best deep-ball throwers in the league, Flacco completed just 17 of 88 passes of 20 yards or more, with eight interceptions.

But when Kubiak called Flacco after he was named the successor to Jim Caldwell in late January, they agreed that there would be no harping on the quarterback's 2013 miscues. All of their energy would be spent on learning the offense and helping Flacco improve as a quarterback.

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