The Credit Joe Flacco Deserves
By Jason Lisk
Earlier this week, Ravens’ safety Ed Reed joined the chorus, going on Sirius XM Radio with Adam Schein and saying that Flacco “looked rattled”, held the ball too long at times, and “didn’t look like he had a hold of the offense.”
So let’s take a quick look at the credit that Joe Flacco deserves for that 5-3 Ravens record in games he has started in the postseason (seven on the road). To do this, I took all postseason games in the last 20 years, and found the 20 most similar games to Joe Flacco’s passer rating for each Ravens playoff game, and looked at the winning percentage in those games. It’s not perfect by any means, but it gives us a sense of how frequently teams win when they have offensive passing performances like the Ravens, with the differences more attributable to other things–defense, defensive turnovers, special teams plays, and rushing performance.
Let’s go down the blow by blow for the eight postseason games.
GAME ONE- 59.1 Passer Rating, 9 of 23, 135 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT [Baltimore at Miami, Jan. 4, 2009].
This game was tied at 3-3 when Ed Reed returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown. Miami turned the ball over 5 times. Flacco completed less than half his passes, for less than 6 yards a pass, but at least had no interceptions. Playoff Record for Teams with Similar Passer Rating: 7-14 (33.3% win).
GAME TWO- 89.4 Passer Rating, 11 of 22, 161 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT [Baltimore at Tennessee, Jan. 10, 2009]
Baltimore only managed 9 first downs in this game, and were out gained by 180 yards, but won the turnover battle 3-0. Flacco did lead a field goal drive in the final minutes after the offense had done nothing all day, and Matt Stover made a 43-yarder to win it 13-10. Playoff Record for Teams with Similar Passer Rating: 9-11 (45.0% win).
GAME THREE- 18.2 Passer Rating, 13 of 30, 141 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT [Baltimore at Pittsburgh, Jan. 18, 2009].
In a defensive showdown, Flacco had three interceptions, including the decisive one that was returned for a touchdown by Troy Polamalu in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 23-14. Playoff Record for Teams with Similar Passer Rating: 2-18 (10.0% win).
GAME FOUR- 10.0 Passer Rating, 4 of 10, 34 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT [Baltimore at New England, Jan. 10, 2010].
If you wanted Exhibit 1 in the Playoff Wins category, this game is it, the lowest rated game for a winning quarterback in a playoff game ever. Baltimore jumped on New England with a long Ray Rice touchdown early, then relied on four New England turnovers and 234 rushing yards to roll to victory. Playoff Record for Teams with Similar Passer Rating: 2-18 (10.0% win).
GAME FIVE- 48.4 Passer Rating, 20 of 35, 189 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT [Baltimore at Indianapolis, Jan. 16, 2010].
The Colts pulled away steadily in this game for a comfortable 20-3 win. Baltimore committed four turnovers, including two Flacco interceptions, as Flacco had what has been his second highest yardage total in a playoff game (though he averaged only 5.4 yards per attempt). Playoff Record for Teams with Similar Passer Rating: 2-18 (10.0% win).
GAME SIX- 115.4 Passer Rating, 25 of 34, 265 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT [Baltimore at Kansas City, Jan. 9, 2011].
Easily Flacco’s best postseason performance. The Ravens defense also contributed 5 takeaways, and the Ravens rolled to a 30-7 win, while out gaining Kansas City 390 to 161. Playoff Record for Teams with Similar Passer Rating: 16-4 (80.0% win).
GAME SEVEN- 61.1 Passer Rating, 16 of 30, 125 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT [Baltimore at Pittsburgh, Jan. 15, 2011].
Baltimore got out to a 21-7 halftime lead on the strength of a Cory Redding fumble return touchdown, and a fumble recovery by Ed Reed at the Pittsburgh 16, setting Baltimore up with a short field. In the second half, though, Flacco could do nothing to build on the lead, as Baltimore had only 3 second half 1st downs. Playoff Record for Teams with Similar Passer Rating: 6-14 (30.0% win).
GAME EIGHT- 97.1 Passer Rating, 14 of 27, 176 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT [Houston at Baltimore, Jan. 15, 2012]. Last Sunday, and this was, by passer rating (which does not account for the holding the ball on sacks) his second-best post-season performance. Let that sink in. The passer rating is boosted by the high touchdown rate, which resulted from short fields after turnovers. Playoff Record for Teams with Similar Passer Rating: 12-8 (60.0% win).
The Kansas City game was the only one where a performance like Flacco’s resulted in a win a high percentage of time, and the Houston game was the only other one where teams won more often than they lost. Flacco has completed 53% of his passes for 5.8 yards per attempt in the postseason, while throwing 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. In the regular season, yes, Joe Flacco has been inconsistent, but once you get outside the top 10 in the league, that’s what you get. He’s been a perfectly average NFL starter, playing with a top defense, and the Ravens have made the playoffs every season.
In the half a season of postseason games, though, he’s been Kyle Boller (56.7%, 5.9 YPA, 48 TD to 54 INT for career), yet he whines about not getting credit? Based on just his play, he should have won a subpar 34.8% of his playoff games, not 5 of 8.
Why are the Ravens 5 for 8 in the postseason in the last four years? It took a lot of advanced analysis, but it is almost entirely Ed Reed’s side of the ball (10.2 points allowed in the five wins) with a side of rushing game in the New England win. More specifically, it is an insane turnover rate on defense. Baltimore has averaged 2 turnovers per playoff game on offense, hardly a great mark. On defense, though, they have forced 25 turnovers in the 8 playoff games.
Let’s put that in some perspective, no defense has forced 50 turnovers over a full season in the last decade. The last team to average as many turnovers per game in a regular season, as Baltimore has in Flacco’s 8 playoff starts, is Buddy Ryan’s Eagles in 1989.
If Flacco wants more credit, then he needs to go out and actually play well enough to get it. He has his opportunity on Sunday against a suspect defense, and I’m not sure he can rely on throwing for just 34 yards this time in New England.
[photo via Getty]