A lot went into our loss on Sunday against Washington. There were critical failures in every possible aspect. John Harbaugh once again put on his crazy hat and asked Justin Tucker to convert 4th & 9. Special teams single-handedly kept the Redskins in the game all first half, putting in miserable work on return coverage. The defense played well enough to win and forced two turnovers in Washington territory that should’ve been the difference–but, fair or not, C.J. Mosley plays on defense, and his carelessness with the football turned points into a touchback.
And the offense? Oh, the offense just cost a man his job this week. That’s all! After Zach Orr forced a fumble on a beautifully solid hit on RB Matt Jones (who seems pretty overrated given the hype), the Ravens got the ball on the Redskins’ 15-yard line. But what came next wasn’t your grandfather’s 3 & out! No siree! This was the kind of ghoulishly non-aggressive 3 & out that makes you shake your head in disgust and want to find Marc Trestman so you can grab him by the pussy.
Part of the reason I forgive Harbaugh for his 4th & 9 trick play (which probably would’ve worked if Gillmore hadn’t stumbled out of his break) is because that call, I think, occurred the moment Harbaugh realized he was fed up with Trestman, who apparently skipped Day 1 at Herm Edwards Academy. After the fumble, Trestman called 1) a dumpoff for 3 yards, 2) a swing pass to West that lost 2 yards, and 3) a shotgun run on 3rd & 9 that, I guess, was some sort of attempt at a fake play-action, which Flacco literally sold for half of one second. Between that absolute failure to sell the play, his comments after the game that he was “embarrassed” by the offense, and last week against the Raiders when he threw the ball away to end the half and was walking off the field before the ball even landed out of bounds, it’s clear Flacco was not a Trestman fan.
This year, in perhaps a reversion to the norm, the D has done its job and protected our lead in game-deciding situations. It’s put teams away when the offense couldn’t. In Weeks 2 and 3 against the Browns and Jaguars, the D stepped up and ended things with a pick. Now, two weeks in a row, the offense has failed to put together a drive for the win. Both times it came close; both times it converted 4th & short, and both times Flacco produced a throw that was good enough to get the W. But both times we failed. Why? In this post I’m specifically sticking to the final drive, exploring heroes, dogs, and everyone in between.
Reminder: This drive was conducted without Steve Smith, who was knocked out of the game earlier with an ankle injury.
We start the drive with a 1st & 10 from our 17 with 2:33 left to play. Ravens OG Ryan Jensen, who actually finished as one of our best performers with a 76.9 grade from Pro Football Focus, barely slows his rusher, who is in Flacco’s face 2.5 seconds after the snap. In fact, Flacco sees this and is releasing the ball before 2 seconds is up, as the clock shows 2:32.
The severity of this rush, however, is not proportional to how poorly Flacco missed his throw to FB Kyle Juszczyk, who was only 4-5 yards away. You can argue few QBs make throw a perfect pass with a defender in their face this fast, and I’ve defended Flacco previously from this angle, but a Super Bowl MVP and a man who can thread the needle to Kamar Aiken between 4 different defenders (last week) should make this throw at least catchable. He throws a dart so low and away that Juice can’t even catch it with a dive, though it wouldn’t been useful for him to make a diving catch anyway given the clock. Still, misses like this are why I often describe Flacco to non-Ravens fans as having the highest of ceilings, but undone by his own inconsistency.
On 2nd & 10, Flacco and Juice do manage to connect for 8 yards when Joe is given a relatively clean pocket.
On 3rd & 2, Trestman’s call is poor and Flacco’s execution is questionable. I strongly dislike the call because it was a throw. A run would’ve more safely protected against encountering a 4th down, given 1) Washington was playing soft coverage, protecting against everything deep, 2) Washington only rushed four linemen, and 3) our rushing attack had been working very well all game, with Terrance West and two of his road pavers, Juszczyk and Marshall Yanda, all finishing in the top 3 in Pro Football Focus offensive grades. You can add to this that 4) the ball was snapped at 2:07, so the clock would’ve stopped at the 2-minute mark regardless.
Flacco got a high snap here, which possibly if not probably threw off his timing to Mike Wallace on the short left sideline, which is the same location for which Flacco had great placement when he hit Steve Smith to convert 4th & 2 against the Jags two weeks prior. The throw is so low and outside that Wallace can’t grab it. But it’s possible this was intentional, as Flacco may have seen the Redskins defender preparing to jump the route. (The red arrow points to the ball.)
I lean toward the idea Flacco had already made up his mind to go to Wallace, a receiver he trusts, who was running a route he’s comfortable throwing, but that he adjusted at the last microsecond to throw a ‘bad’ ball that could be caught by Wallace or no one. I lean this way because Juice (#44) would’ve been open on a short comeback right in front of Flacco (in the bottom of the frame), and Flacco had the time and clean pocket to find him.
That brings us to 4th & 2, which Flacco converted himself on a surgically repaired knee. Was this a designed QB rollout? The answer is likely no, because that would be insane, but it’s tempting to wonder. Joe decided to run from a decent pocket one second after the snap.
Below is the moment you can see he’s made up his mind to scramble. From where everyone is positioned on the field at this point, with Washington’s corners backpedaling and our receivers taking them upfield, I think it’s more likely this was a normal designed throw that Flacco decided to eschew for the much higher odds he’d convert on his own with so much open field.
This open field closed quickly, though, which makes this play a good example of Flacco’s athleticism and ability to stay cool under pressure. After he scrambles, the lane he thought he saw breaks down almost immediately, as Redskins DE Chris Baker was unengaged but had been obscured from Flacco’s view when he decided to take off. But Flacco improvises well, continuing to move to his left with Baker in pursuit, pump-faking just enough to make Baker pause, accelerating at just the right moment to make Baker tackle air, and running for the 1st with a decent block from Perriman.
There are a lot of QBs who would’ve either tried to run before the lane reemerged at the very last second, or who would’ve tried an ill-advised pass with a) no time to step into the throw and b) most of the field angled to their disadvantage, being so close to a sideline. As you can see below, there is a moment when it looks very doubtful Flacco will pick up this 1st down; Baker is inches from him, two Redskins are closing in, and 8 yards separate him from the marker. Somehow, though, Joe makes it happen.
At this point the drive starts to find a nice rhythm, perhaps sparked by the 4th down conversion. The next six plays are all confident, clear-headed strikes from Flacco, even though one of them goes incomplete through no fault of his own.
On 1st & 10 from our 31-yard line with 1:55 left, Joe gets a relatively clean pocket and delivers a good ball to Juszczyk, who picks up 8 yards. On the next play, Flacco again goes to the Harvard fullback, who’s again wide open underneath. This is Juice’s third catch this drive, on four targets; our receivers are having trouble beating man coverage downfield, so Flacco is taking what the defense gives him, perhaps trying to lull them against the shot he’ll eventually take (and perhaps, smartly, in defiance of his own long-bombing nature). On the new 1st & 10 from our 43 with 1:30 left, Flacco gives a great ball to Pitta, who is able to protect himself from two charging defenders on either side and fall forward for the 1st down, into Redskins territory.
The drive has now converted three 1st downs, two in a row. We have momentum, our offense is giving Washington a reason to sweat, and our chances of winning–though not great–are the highest they’ve been since about mid-way through the 3rd quarter (~30%). We call a timeout to get our bearings, and at this point I think most Ravens fans are just happy our comeback is not totally impossible.
With a new 1st & 10 from the Redskins’ 47 with 1:12 left, Flacco gets a clean pocket and takes his first shot to Perriman up the right sideline. Perriman had a step, but Flacco had no time to set and deliver a perfect ball; given the close coverage of the CB just behind Perriman and the hard-charging safety to his front, the moment Flacco saw a chance was the moment he had to throw it. And that said, he barely overthrew him, putting the ball in a spot where either Perriman would catch it or no one would. Flacco had a very small window to work with, and still the pass came close to falling right in Perriman’s breadbasket. Everyone on this play did their job well. It was a good try and a good shot.
On 2nd & 10, Flacco gets a nice pocket for the second play in a row (that sound you just heard was hell freezing over), so he had time to survey the field from right to middle and even double-clutch before finding Wallace open. (Urge to be cautiously optimistic… rising…) On our new 1st & 10 from the Redskins’ 36 (48 seconds left), Flacco was the perfect mix of alert, careful, and aggressive. The pocket in front of him was solid, but plug-and-play LT Alex Lewis got beat around the edge and his man was coming in behind Flacco, on his blind side. Joe, however, sensed this pressure to his rear-left and rolled out, all the while keeping his eyes downfield. He pump-faked, kept buying time, and at the last second found Wallace on the right sideline for a 1st down.
It’s hard to put the exciting familiarity of this play into words, but Ravens fans know it well: This was the kind of play Postseason Flacco would make, the guy who always seems to find someone on a (semi-desperate) sideline rollout with a bizarrely precise strike. Wallace also did well to get just enough of his right heel down to make it impossible for the ref to overturn the ‘catch’ call on-field.
At this point Flacco had completed five passes in a row–and the offense looked capable of winning the game! Things would turn, however, on the next play.
With a new 1st & 10 from the Redskins’ 24 (39 seconds left), the Ravens max-protected Flacco so he’d have a clean pocket for the homerun shot, which he took and executed flawlessly. Flacco achieves amazing power and placement on this throw with barely a flick of his wrist; it’s worth checking out in the game highlights. And again, he looked like January Joe, because throwing with full confidence and balls-out abandon to a guy who a) had let him down earlier with a very bad drop (before this drive), and b) was covered by a Pro Bowl cornerback, is something Playoffs Flacco would do in a heartbeat.
This incompletion falls on Perriman. While he did the right thing to go up and attack the ball at its highest point, he seemed more concerned with using his left leg to brace against an awkward fall than letting it drag down inbounds. His body control in the above shot is off. His left knee is up due to the fact he jumped for the catch, but he’s not positioned well to go dead-leg.
Watching it live I thought he’d completed the catch because of how confidently he stood up and celebrated. But on replay, Perriman never even came close to getting his left foot down. In fact, his left foot touched NO part of grass, which itself seems unlikely given the below still. This is not to rag on Perriman; he’s obviously trying hard to contribute, and by all accounts he’s a great guy and teammate. But if I showed you the same frame below and told you the receiver was Mike Wallace or Steve Smith, wouldn’t you be surprised if I told you NO part of his second foot came down inbounds? Reminder: Perriman was not pushed or interfered with. This is something he just needs to work on, as it reminds me of the lack of body control/foot awareness Torrey Smith displayed in his time here.
After this TD was rightly overturned, all life and rhythm left our offense. Maybe a little out of sorts since he thought we just won, Flacco was notably worse when he came back on the field.
On 2nd & 10, still at the Redskins’ 24 (33 seconds left), Flacco correctly rolled out from a crumbling pocket but threw a bad pass to a wide open Perriman on the left sideline, right in front of him. Instead of delivering a softer, lower throw that Perriman could’ve caught and scampered upfield with before going OOB to preserve time, Flacco threw a dart, hard and high, that forced Perriman to leap and go OOB from his own momentum. A possible 10-yard gain became a 2-yard gain.
On 3rd & 8, Flacco made a poor choice to go for the homerun–and for the second week in a row, his mind seems to have been made up pre-snap to throw to Kamar Aiken, no matter the coverage. Here, Aiken was double-covered, and Aiken himself had to play CB in order to keep the pass from being intercepted. Joe instantly threw his arms up afterward, as if he expected a pass interference flag. But not only is that a bad look (reminiscent of Brady at his most punchable), also no flag was deserved. To Washington’s credit, the defenders barely touched Aiken, and both guys played the ball the whole way.
To make matters worse, Flacco had a decent pocket on this play but left it for no reason, which modified Washington’s rush angles and forced him to hurry that throw to Aiken. If Flacco had 1) stayed in the pocket to survey and 2) not pre-determined (a guess, but what it looks like) he’d throw to Aiken, he would’ve seen Wallace open underneath for the 1st down. For the record, the middle of the field was in play because we still had one timeout. Convert that 3rd down and we can spend the next four plays taking shots to the end zone from 15 yards out (if not MUCH closer, given how far the CB was from Wallace). Joe lost his priorities.
This above still is the moment Flacco decides to roll out to his right, even though his pocket was fine. As a result, #92 (who almost sacked him on the 4th down play earlier in the drive) gets a free run at him.
This still shows just how open Wallace was. Again, a shame Joe rushed a throw to a double-covered Aiken, given his pocket was clean and he had time to throw this.
The last play of the drive is 4th & 8 from the Redskins’ 21 with 21 seconds left. The throw Flacco makes to Wallace here has very little chance of succeeding, which it doesn’t. But I do give Joe credit for getting it there in a window that had a defender to Wallace’s front, back, left, and right. Again, Washington just played this well: The defenders’ positioning made it hard for Joe to give Wallace the ball in a place where he could’ve caught it. That place did exist, but the window and timing needed to be perfect; and meanwhile, big surprise, Flacco was a second from being hit by a rusher. Joe threw it a little late, but if he had thrown it much sooner, a defender (red arrow) would’ve jumped the route and picked it.
Flacco correctly threw away from this guy, but he led Wallace a hair too far. Surrounded by four defenders, the ideal throw isn’t high and away, which opens receivers to just the kind of nasty hit that Wallace took. The ball sailed, which made Wallace overextend to his left, straight into a defender who made him pay.
The unfortunate thing about this 4th down is Flacco (correctly) has so little faith in his line that he didn’t allow himself to think about Juszczyk, his old security blanket this entire drive. Juice was coming wide open from the backfield after pretending to block, and with a good throw out in front of him, he probably would’ve run for this 1st down easily. There would’ve been time to run up, spike the ball, and likely get two shots to the end zone from close to the 10-yard line.
Flacco, however, has a defender literally on his body the moment he throws to Wallace. He had no time to consider his options and he knew he’d have no time, so he did what he’s been doing all season: He predetermined his receiver and threw the ball as best he could.
This play demonstrates that our offensive woes won’t be as easy to fix as “Out with Marc, in with Marty.” My hope is Mornhinweg better understands how to use our personnel and plays, so he can maximize our line’s potential. But the line itself is a core trouble spot. Between this game and the Raiders game, this is now two games in a row where on 4th down on a would-be winning drive, Flacco has had to throw to a pre-chosen receiver in quadruple coverage, expecting he’d have no time to survey the field and as a result missing someone open for the conversion.
Thank you for reading. My apologies for the late post this week; was a little under the weather. All better now, and just in time to see us get mauled by the Giants! Kidding. With this loss to the Redskins, our OC’s firing, and Kaepernick’s promotion to starter in San Francisco, this is shaping up to be another SUPER BOWL SEASON. In 2012 we beat the Giants 33-14, so naturally this Sunday will be another blowout, cosmically ordained as we march toward Houston on Feb. 5. See y’all soon!