Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau
Share with others:
If he could, Joe Flacco probably would transfer out of the AFC North after playing the Steelers.
In a season in which he became the first rookie in National Football League history to win two playoff games, Flacco looked more flustered than fantastic in two of his three meetings against the Steelers. And it just happened to be in two of the Ravens' biggest games of the season.
After throwing for 192 yards and a touchdown in his first game against the Steelers at Heinz Field, Flacco had a significantly more troublesome time against Dick LeBeau's defense in the next two meetings.
He completed just 11 of 28 passes for 115 yards and was intercepted twice in the Steelers' 13-9 victory Dec. 14 in M&T Bank Stadium. And he was 13 of 30 for 141 yards and intercepted three times in the AFC Championship game in Heinz Field. His combined passer rating for those two games was 17.1.
What's more, Flacco was sacked three times and stopped on a fourth-and-1 sneak that led to Santonio Holmes' 65-yard touchdown pass in the conference championship, won by the Steelers, 23-14.
"I think they did adjust their game plan, like you always do," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "As they got to know Joe a little better and some of the things that we were doing or trying to do with our personnel, obviously they did the better job and were able to improve with each one of those games."
Flacco will get a shot at some personal redemption tonight when the Steelers (6-4) play the Ravens (5-5) at M&T Bank Stadium.
"They stop the run well and they try to confuse the quarterback a little bit and make him not be settled with where he's going to go with the ball," Flacco said of the Steelers, who rank No. 1 in the NFL in rush defense and total defense. "I think as a quarterback you've got to go back and play confident with what you see and just let loose and we'll see what happens. We're going to go in there and play confident, we're going to come into our stadium and play confidently, just let the ball loose and let our natural abilities take over."
Despite Flacco's arm strength, the Ravens aren't exactly known as a vertical passing team. He has 28 passes of 20 yards, fewest among AFC quarterbacks who have started every game.
Nearly half of his 213 completions are to running back Ray Rice (56) and wide receiver Derrick Mason (45), leading to complaints that Flacco does not involve other receivers in the offense. He has been quick to check down a lot to Rice, especially on third down when he has a team-high 17 receptions.
That, though, could change against the Steelers, who gave up five passes of 20 yards or longer in their 27-24 overtime loss in Kansas City. Of those, the Chiefs hit passes of 30, 47 and 61 yards in the final 16 minutes -- a surprising amount against a team that prides itself on preventing big pass plays.
"We were out of place," coach Mike Tomlin said of his defense, which allowed only two passes of 40 yards or longer during the 2008 regular season. "That hasn't been a signature of our football team."
Flacco had gone three consecutive games in which he didn't pass for more than 195 yards until he threw for 256 yards in last week's 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts -- the fourth time in seven games the Ravens have lost by four points or fewer.
First Published November 29, 2009 12:00 am