Why Is Joe Flacco So Good This Year?

At the end of last year, if you told me to rate three young QBs for the next season between Matt Ryan, Tyler Thigpen, and Joe Flacco, I would rank them in that order. Ryan would ROY honors and then added another awesome weapon: Tony Gonzales. We'll see how Thigpen does in Miami but Joe Flacco is a top ten, maybe even top five QB this year!? WTF!?

Last year Flacco was 22nd in passer rating, 18th in YPA, 20th in completion percentage, and 25th in Y/G with 14 TD to 12 INT. This year he's 5th in passer rating, 7th in Y/G, 6th in YPA, and 9th in completion percentage with 6 TDs to 4 INTs. What gives, why the sudden turn around?

This year Baltimore didn't really do anything different on offense. They didn't add anyone big on the O-line or any big receivers, at all. Sure, they're running game with McGahee and Rice is awesome, but they're running game last year was nothing to slouch at either.

I think one important thing to look at was Flacco's game log last year. Within his first four games he threw 7 of his 12 INTs to only one TD. Since that game he threw 12 TDs to only 5 INTs. Then you look, and one of the games towards the end of the year was versus the Pittsburgh Steelers with their awesome defense (it's acceptable that any QB, no matter how good or bad they actually are, do bad against an amazing defense)where Flacco threw 2 picks to no TDs. You take that game out and Flacco threw 12 TDs to 3 INTs in his past 11 games. Excluding the Steelers game, Flacco had a passer rating of 95 or better in four out of his last five games at the end of the 2008 season.

I think next it's probably helpful to look at Flacco's receivers.

Derrick Mason: 11th in DYAR, 15th in DVOA, 67% catch rate (among WRs)
Mark Clayton: 61st in DYAR, 59th in DVOA, 50% catch rate (among WRs)
Todd Heap: 19th in DYAR, 22nd in DVOA, 55% catch rate (among TEs)

Derrick Mason: 32nd in DYAR, 38th in DVOA, 55% catch rate (among WRs)
Mark Clayton: 55th in DYAR, 55th in DVOA, 47% catch rate (among WRs)
Todd Heap: 4th in DYAR, 6th in DVOA, 63% catch rate (among TEs)

You may not understand the statistics I used but it's clear that (yes in the limited sample size) Mason and Clayton, Flacco's two main receivers are worse or just as bad as they were last year. Yes, this year, Heap is significantly better, but can one player, a TE, really explain the sudden boost in Flacco's numbers, probably not. In fact, these numbers are boggling because why does Flacco have such a good completion percentage when his receivers are worse?

So I took a look at Baltimore's RBs. L'Ron McClain has caught 80% of the passes thrown his way and Willis McGahee has caught 75%. Ray Rice has been no slouch catching 65% of his passes. All three RBs combine make up one third of Flacco's targets.

Throwing to Clayton and mason makes up about 40% in Flacco's targets and Heap makes up about 21% with about 10% going to other receivers. So if you look at it this way, about 50% of all of Flacco's passes are going to players that catch the ball: a RB or Heap.

I also took a brief look at Flacco's O-line had it's significantly better than last year ranking 7th this year in pass blocking. Sure Flacco seems to have more time to pass the ball, which will make any QB better, but I didn't think Flacco was all that good to begin with, so having even more time won't help a bad QB.

So if you ask me why is Flacco so good? I would say it's because of his dump off passes to his backs and because of Todd Heap. His others receivers have been garbage for three games, especially in terms of efficiency. But the other half have been doing very well. Does this explain why Flacco went from a below average starter to a top 10 QB? I don't know. But I think this explains explain why Flacco doesn't suck this year. Sure, he looked like he was developing at the end of last year which probably is a considering factor. Flacco has only played 19 regular season games plus three playoff games. Maybe he was worth being drafted in the first round and the more time in the pocket helps his development? However, just based on how Flacco seems to be getting his fantasy points still makes me think less of him.


The 'Bright' One said...

you're getting quite good at this football analysis

i like flacco, i did before he was drafted. he's good because he is 6'6" with a cannon arm, and is not jamarcus russell. He obviously developed throughout last year and was very successful down the stretch. Your stats are good and it seems his increased success is mostly just learning how to play at this level. Dude is really good. Very similar to Big Ben, and would probably benefit if they limited his passing to 20-25 per game

Back to Thigpen. His stats dont tell the whole story. We watched the games, and he was far and away the only reason KC had any chance of winning any games last year. Tell me a QB who had passer rating of 85 on a team that went 2-14. Considering KC has yet to win a game, the team obviously sucks for reasons other than the QB. I hope he starts in Miami and sets the world on fire!

Journalissimo said...

Very good, very interesting analysis. However, I think you downgrade two keys points.

One, I don't think you give enough credit to the O-line. There is a big difference between trying to get a pass off in two seconds versus six seconds. Good line play can make a mediocre quarterback look fantastic. Granted, I don't think Flacco's success is entirely due to good line play, but it certainly helps. Consider the Super Bowl of the Giants and the Patriots. The Patriots had a phenomenal quarterback in Brady, but without protection he was not at his best.

Second, and correct me if I'm completely wrong, but your analysis seems to suggest you denigrating a quarterback for the dump-off passes to running backs and tight ends. Frankly, I think that shows off Flacco's decision-making abilities. Too often, I have seen quarterbacks force longer plays, only to kill a drive through endless incompletions and/or interceptions. Those short dump passes, while not fan favorites, prolong time of possession and keep the offense advancing. These types of passes are not great from a fantasy perspective, but they are good from a team perspective.

I actually like the Big Ben comparison: a strong, capable passer surrounded by a good supporting cast.

Sexy Rexy said...

Well one, I hate ben roethlisberger

two, some valid criticisms of me. I think it's fair to say that the reason Flacco is good is b/c of passing to his backs and TE, but that is, for a rational reasoning sake, to make the conclusion that it's bad. But from my subjective standard I don't like it because that seems like something anyone can do. Making passes to wide outs take great skill and very limited people can do it. Hell 32 QBs right now can't do it. So the ones who CAN do it, I feel are better are ones that do not. yes, if he can not do it, it's a great thing to keep drives going to score but if you can't pas to ur wide outs, you get a low mark in my book

Lastly, obviously having time to throw is a great thing. But just because you have time doesn't mean the decision you make with the time is a good one. Especially when all ur doing is giving it to ur TE or RB. NE has the best pass blocking O-line, is Tom Brady the best QB now? TB has the 4th best pass blocking O-line and Bryon Leftwich just got benched. So is the fact that the Baltimore has a top tier O-line a contributing factor? Absolutely. But I'm looking for causal factors to find out why Flacco is good and to me, all the O-line is is a contributing one, not a causal one.