After a Disappointing 2013, Joe Flacco Is Having the Best Season of His Career
Joe Flacco got all the praise when the Ravens won the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. He was elite. He was a top-five quarterback.
He was overrated.
Fast forward two years, and Flacco's rarely part of any sort of elite conversation. He's an afterthought when talking about the best quarterbacks in the league. He's just Joe Flacco, a quarterback capable of putting together a handful of great games without any sort of long-term sustainability.
Flacco regressed in 2013 after putting together a masterful Super Bowl run in 2012. It was the first time he'd ever thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in a season, and he failed to toss 20 touchdown passes for the first time since his rookie campaign. As a result, the Ravens offense was one of the worst units in the NFL.
Rather than being demoted, Jim Caldwell, the team's offensive coordinator, somehow ended up with the head coaching gig in Detroit after leading the Ravens down a dark path on offense in 2013. Caldwell's move turned out to be a great thing for the Ravens though, as the team hired ex-Texans head coach Gary Kubiak to call plays for the offense. They haven't been the same, in a good way, since.
Kubiak's known for his zone-blocking scheme and helping teams improve their running game. We've seen that firsthand this season, as Baltimore's gone from the least-effective rushing attack in the NFL to the ninth-best one, per numberFire metrics, in less than a year. Justin Forsett, who's been on and off rosters quicker than Tori was on Saved By the Bell, has turned into one of the best rushers in the entire league. This isn't anything new for a Kubiak-led team -- Steve Slaton, Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns and Mike Anderson all had top-notch seasons under Kubiak's direction.
But what's always gone under the radar when it comes to what Kubiak can do to an offense is the fact that he gets the most out of his quarterbacks. I mentioned this back when the Ravens hired him in January, and we're seeing it come to fruition. Because Joe Flacco is having a career year.
Flacco's Career Year
The Net Expected Points (NEP) data we've compiled over the last 15 years doesn't factor in playoff performance. If it did, Joe Flacco's 2012 numbers would look much better than they do, simply because he played at a level only top-tier quarterbacks play at during that run.
But we have to recognize that, during his career, Joe Flacco's been very average. Take a look at his numbers below, which show his Passing NEP, Passing NEP per drop back average and ranking within these metrics per season among 300-plus attempt passers.
|Passing NEP||Rank||Per Drop Back||Rank|
Because passing is much more efficient than running, you'll find that average Passing NEP scores hover at a number higher than zero -- in fact, since 2000, the average Passing NEP score for a quarterback has been about 42.00. As you can see from the table above, Flacco's hit that mark just twice in his career, and his rankings reflect that.
But overall, Flacco's been merely an average quarterback. That's not a bad thing considering the team's consistent high-level of production on the defensive side of the ball, and because of his stellar play in the playoffs a couple of years ago, the team has a Super Bowl ring under his lead. It could be much, much worse -- just ask the Rams.
His 2014 campaign, though, has been dramatically better than any other season he's played in the NFL. Take a look at his numbers through Week 15, and what they'd end up looking like if his pace continues over his final two games.
|Passing NEP||Rank||Per Drop Back||Rank|
|Through 14 Games||97.40||10th||0.20||6th|
Flacco's current Passing NEP total ranks 10th among all high-volume quarterbacks, and on a per drop back basis, Flacco's rate is just as good as Drew Brees', sixth-best in the NFL.
A key for Flacco this season has been consistency with his drop backs. We use a metric here at numberFire called Success Rate, which measures the percentage of passes that contribute positively towards a player's NEP. To put it another way, Success Rate is just the proportion of plays a player makes that are good, positive plays.
Historically, Flacco's Success Rate numbers have been dreadful, mostly because he's relied on the deep ball to accumulate his numbers. He never had a Success Rate higher than 47.20%, typically a pretty average rate for a starter, and his career Success Rate entering 2014 was 43.5%. To give you some context, that's about where Josh McCown is at this year.
This season though, Flacco's Success Rate has jumped to 51.13%, seventh best in the NFL.
A key reason for this? He's throwing shorter passes. According to ESPN.com's stat splits, Flacco's throwing 9.5 passes per game over the 10-yard mark, which equates to roughly 28% of his passes. In 2012 and 2013, 34% of his passes were going over 10 yards.
The Ravens have morphed into a team that's not just pounding the football with their running back and taking shots down the field to their speedy wideouts. Because of Gary Kubiak -- and probably the addition of Steve Smith -- Baltimore has been more calculated and precise, and it's catapulted their offense into one of the best in the NFL.
Joe Flacco isn't elite. He'll never be elite. But in 2014, Joe Flacco's showing all of us that he's still one of the better starters in the league. And if he can keep his pace into 2015, the Ravens will continue to be contenders.