Ravens, Flacco still like to throw it deep

Ravens, Flacco still like to throw it deep
December 20, 2013, 10:00 am
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(USA Today Sports Images)

FOXBORO -- The Patriots defense hasn't created a turnover in two games -- Nate Ebner's gift recovery of a botched Dolphins field goal notwithstanding -- but Joe Flacco could provide them with their share of opportunities on Sunday.

Over the course of the year, Flacco has been far from the form that earned him a Super Bowl MVP last season, posting an 18-to-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Even so, on Thursday, the Patriots weren't willing to admit that they would be licking their chops for opportunities to get their hands on the ball.

"That stuff was kind of early," Aqib Talib said of Flacco's struggles. "He's been playing good football lately."

The Ravens have won each of their last four games, but in that time, Flacco's risk-reward style of play has continued. He's thrown five touchdowns and four interceptions in 149 attempts and has an average quarterback rating of 82.5.

"I think he's a very good quarterback," Devin McCourty said. '"At times people are gonna say you're struggling. They're going to say this and that. But we know he's a good quarterback. This is biggest game of the year for both teams so he'll come ready to play."

He did last year in these types of situations. He beat the Patriots in the AFC title game and then the Niners in the Super Bowl by hitting on many of the kinds of passes that might at times fall into the wrong hands.

Put simply: He likes to air it out.

In eliminating the Patriots, Flacco and the Ravens completed four passes of 20 yards or more. Against San Francisco, they connected on five such big plays.

This year, Baltimore's offensive philosophy hasn't appeared to change all that much. They have a quarterback with a big arm, and they wear it out.

"He lets it to go," McCourty said of Flacco. "There some other guys -- like Ben Roethlisberger has a huge arm -- but I think [Flacco] has a lot of confidence throwing to those guys so you see him throw eight to 10 [passes] sometimes just down the field, giving his guy a shot. He really puts it out there."

Even without Anquan Boldin, who made some key acrobatic grabs on deep balls in the playoffs last year for Flacco, the Ravens still have receivers who can go long.

They're third in the NFL with 13 completed plays of 40 yards or more, and their No. 1 wideout Torrey Smith is fourth in the league with 19 catches of 20 yards or more.

"They're still pretty good," McCourty said. "They have two vertical threats in Jacoby [Jones] and Torrey. I think Marlon Brown has done a really good job inside. He's not Anquan Boldin, but he's a young guy that has been very productive.

"And I think the biggest thing for them is they have to be fully confident in [Dennis] Pitta being back. He's a good player for them. He's played well against us in the past. You put him in there on third down with two deep guys and a good slot receiver, you have a full group of guys.

"For us it's another challenge. We've played good receiving corps throughout the year with good tight ends, good outside receivers, good inside receivers. I think our work's cut out for us. But if you like football, this is what you like. End of the year, Week 15, we gotta step up and play a big game."

To turn some of those long attempts into turnovers, the entire Patriots defense will have to have a strong day. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich explained that if the coverage is good, and the pressure is consisten, they should have opportunities to get to Flacco.

The Ravens have given up the sixth most sacks in the league (42) this season after having dealt with some changes to the personnel on their offensive line.

"If you cover the guys, then the quarterback has to hold the ball and you have a little bit more chance to get to the quarterback," Ninkovich said. "They've had some moving parts up front, [but] they've kind of settled down recently. Last few weeks, they haven't had much change there so it's just looking at the concepts that they do offensively, knowing that there's a chance for us to get there because they like to throw those deep balls, and just winning your one-on-one matchup. Whoever's got that one-on-one, they've gotta win."

And if Patriots defenders can get their hands on the ball, they'll have an opportunity to turn potential big plays for the Ravens into turnovers -- a category in which New England knows it has been lacking and hopes to correct.

"With us not having as many turnovers, the percentages of winning the game go down," Ninkovich said. "We just have to continue to get after the ball and create those turnovers because we're capable of doing it."