Thursday, November 3, 2011

We've Got Nowhere Else to Go!

Exhibit "A".
I've taken some heat for being a little too critical of Joe Flacco, Cam Cameron and the Ravens' offense which kind of took me off guard considering their recent six quarter - 13 point malaise against the Jags and the Cardinals which evoked memories of the 2000 season when they went five straight games without a touchdown.  They won the Super Bowl that year with Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer completing 57% of their passes for 20 touchdowns and 19 interceptions and their best wide receiver was Qadry Ismail who caught 49 passes for 655 yards.  (Pretty strong opening argument for the "Best Defense of All Time" debate).  This year's offense is starting to look eerily like the 2000 version but maybe I'm wrong and there is more reason for optimism than I'm seeing (wouldn't be the first time).  Let's break it down and find out.

Let me preface this by saying that criticizing Flacco and Cameron is made somewhat difficult by the fact that they are both good guys.  If anyone is going to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl, we want it to be them.  Unfortunately, we are losing faith that we can answer the question "can we win a Super Bowl with this guy?" in the affirmative.  Here is why we are growing less optimistic:

Joe Flacco's career playoff stats (starting with the most recent loss to the Steelers):
  • 2011 - Divisional Round against the Steelers: 16-30 for 125 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception (and the interception was a second half momentum shifting killer);
  • 2011 - Wild Card Round against the Chiefs:  25-34 for 265 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions (only playoff game with 200+ yards or multiple touchdowns);
  • 2010 - Divisional Round against the Colts: 20-35 for 189 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions;
  • 2010 - Wild Card Round against the Patriots: 4-10 for 34 yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception (something of an aberration game as the Ravens ran the Patriots off the field and picked Brady 3 times);
  • "Oh sweet mercy we're
    in the shotgun again."
  • 2009 - AFC Championship Game against the Steelers: 13-30 for 141 yards with no touchdowns and 3 interceptions (not holding this one against him playing as a rookie on the road against the best team in football that year);
  • 2009 - Divisional Round against the Titans: 11-22 for 161 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions (he also made a great pass to Todd Heap on the game winning drive that made Ravens fans think "we may have something here");
  • 2009 - Wild Card Round against the Dolphins: 9-23 for 135 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
So these are the facts. Joe Flacco has played in seven playoff games (all on the road) and he's thrown for more than 200 yards once. He has thrown for 2 touchdowns once, 1 touchdown twice and 0 touchdowns in the other four games for a total of 4. If you were to prorate that for a 16 game season, it would give him 9 and he would not have a job the following year. His average playoff stats are 98-184 (53%) for 150 yards with 4 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Those are pretty comparable to Kyle Boller's 2007 stats except that Boller had a better completion percentage and TD/INT ratio. I'm just sayin'.

In a league where the last eight titles have been won by guys named Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning, Rodgers and Brees, your quarterback has to be at least above average for 3-4 straight games in the playoffs to win it all and, considering the playoff runs of Rodgers and Brees the last two years, that might not even cut it anymore. Brees had 8 touchdowns and no picks in 2009 and Rodgers had 9 touchdowns and 2 picks in 2010 along with 2 rushing touchdowns. I won't compare Rodgers' Super Bowl stats to Flacco's against the Steelers two weeks earlier because that would be overkill. Let's just say that if Flacco had played half as well as Rodgers, the Ravens would have hosted the Jets in the AFC Championship game the following week and yes, I am still bitter.

The problem is that there are no signs of improvement this year.  You can blame the offensive line (maybe), the lockout (you'd be reaching) or the loss of Mason and Heap (just stop it) but the fact is that Flacco is having the worst season of his career in his 4th year when he should be peaking.  In their loss to the Titans, he was 15-32 for 197 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions.  Against the Jags last week, he was 21-37 for 137 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.  In their win versus the Jets where the defense scored three touchdowns, he was 10-31 for 163 yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception (a pick six to let the Jets back into the game before Mark Sanchez said "oh yeah?" and threw one of his own to seal it).  That is three colossal turds Flacco has dropped in seven games.

The other problem facing Flacco and Cameron (and consequently John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome) is that in Baltimore, the Ravens are all we've got so they need to figure this out while under a 365 day 24/7 full court press by the local fans.  The Orioles are dead to most of us and we have no NBA or NHL team.  (Try to start an NBA conversation in this town and people will look at you like you just declared that Brian Boitano is absolutely the most underrated figure skater of all time).  The full extent of our rooting interests goes like this:  (1) our kids' little league teams, (2) the Ravens and (3) Michael Phelps.  That's it.  That's the list.
  
"We've got nowhere else to go!!!"
So there is a lot riding on Sunday night's game against the Steelers because history has shown us that it will decide home field advantage for the inevitable rematch in the playoffs.  Is there a movie that details our plight?  (Isn't there always). For this one we've got to dig deep and go back to 1982 to find Richard Gere fighting his past and Louis Gossett, Jr. to turn his life into something meaningful in An Officer and a Gentleman.  This clip pretty much explains why Ravens fans keep coming back for more abuse at the hands of the Steelers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tPJwirRWng&feature=related.  

In fact the whole movie works pretty well as a Ravens-Steelers/Gere-Gossett, Jr. analogy from the opening inspection (Flacco's rookie season) to the climactic fight scene where Gere had Gossett on the ropes and was going for the knockout when Gossett suddenly ended it with the kick that made every man in the theatre shift in his seat (Polamalu's 2010 strip sack touchdown).  Gere comes back to graduate and gets the girl and I would like nothing more than for life to imitate art and have Joe Flacco beats the odds, walk into that paper plant, pick-up the Lombardi Trophy and carry Ravens fans to a better life while jealous Orioles fans yell, "Way to go Ravens!  Way to go!"

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