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Flacco's early struggles just one Ravens passing-game concern

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Posted Oct. 29, 2011 @ 9:33 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

As the focal point of the Ravens' passing game, QB Joe Flacco gets the bulk of the praise when all is well and the lion's share of the scrutiny when the attack sputters. So it goes for quarterbacks.

The numbers clearly suggest that Flacco is having his worst season. His completion percentage is significantly below his average in his first three years (62.0 percent). In the Ravens' two losses, he has not played well. In Baltimore's 12-7 defeat at Jacksonville in front of a national cable television audience on Oct. 24, Flacco completed 21-of-38 passes for a paltry 137 yards, with the offense getting its act together too late for the heavily favored Ravens. It must also be noted, however, that Flacco, in Baltimore's wins, has performed well. For instance, three early TD passes were knockout punches in a rout of St. Louis.

The question is: How much of the blame does Flacco deserve when the passing game falters? Opinions will vary, but it's clear the Ravens' air attack has concerns other than just Flacco's play.

One veteran NFL personnel man familiar with Flacco and the Ravens' offense, speaking on condition of anonymity, told PFW that, in his opinion, Flacco is a capable starter whom a club can win with, but he can't carry an offense by himself. In the evaluator's opinion, the Ravens' offense has several weaknesses that have the potential to hamper the passing game. Of particular note, the left side of the Ravens' offensive line, the evaluator said, can be more easily attacked without OLG Ben Grubbs, who has missed most of the season with a toe injury. Andre Gurode, who has filled in for Grubbs, has primarily played center throughout his NFL career. What's more, OLT Bryant McKinnie has struggled, allowing four sacks in six games, per STATS LLC.

Another absence that has affected the passing game at times is that of WR Lee Evans. Rookie Torrey Smith has played relatively well with Evans out, but without Evans, the Ravens' pass-catching corps isn't as fast, and it is not as deep. The evaluator noted that defenses must respect Evans' playmaking ability.

As the regular season nears the midpoint, it is clear that Ravens opponents will primarily focus on trying to stop RB Ray Rice. In the passing game, keeping WR Anquan Boldin in check is a top priority. If opponents can't accomplish these goals, the Ravens figure to be tough. But defenses, the evaluator said, will continue to work to force the Ravens into obvious passing situations and to take away Flacco's first read. And that is when the passing game will be put to the test.

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