Inside the Ravens with Aaron Wilson

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ravens insist that Flacco's health is fine

OWINGS MILLS – Hobbled by a hip contusion and a sore quadriceps that has severely limited his mobility and production, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is just five days away from another encounter with the relentless Indianapolis Colts’ pass rush.

Despite Flacco completing only four of 10 passes for 34 yards with one interception and no touchdowns, the Ravens trampled the New England Patriots for a 33-14 AFC wild-card victory Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Against the Patriots, Flacco simply managed the game by handing off to running back Ray Rice as he carried the offense with 159 rushing yards and two touchdown runs.

Now, Flacco and the Ravens are bracing for the swift onslaught of Colts star defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

To a man, the Ravens insist that Flacco will be ready and capable of handling the situation.

“He is very much healthy enough to play and to play well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday at the Ravens’ training complex. “The more you guys want to make of the injury situation, that’s great. Make it really dire. You know, he’s really in bad shape. He’s fine.”

Flacco wound up tying former Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese for the least yards in a playoff win during the Super Bowl era, a span dating back to 1966.

Griese also passed for 34 yards on Dec. 30, 1973 during a win over the Oakland Raiders.

It became clear last week that Flacco’s condition had worsened.

His bruise on his right hip was extremely noticeable.

He left practice early Friday for treatment.

And he struggled to work out the stiffness during practice drills.

“I’ve got stiffness in the quad,” said Flacco, who added that he didn’t take a painkiller to get through the game.“I don’t know if it’s because of fluid running down there or what it is. It’s my whole right leg.”

In New England, Flacco didn’t appear to be able to step into his throws with his usual authority and mechanics as his passes sailed with one errant throw intercepted by outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain.

Nonetheless, Flacco was able to grit it out and do just enough to help his team win by scrambling for a key first down in the fourth quarter to set up a Willis McGahee touchdown run.

Earlier in that drive, Flacco delivered a 17-yard strike to wide receiver Mark Clayton to convert a pivotal third down.

“I think Joe played well,” Harbaugh said. “One thing, we don’t care about is numbers. That’s for everybody else. Those numbers don’t mean anything to us. When Joe has to throw the ball 48 times to try to win a game, he’ll do that. When we have to throw 10 times to try to win a game, we’ll do that, too.

“I think it speaks to really the unselfish nature of these guys, of our offensive coaches, of Joe, of the receivers. Our receivers, it was four catches, so it’s stunning in some ways. But they were big ones, were they not. They were huge conversions on third down.”

For Flacco, it marked a career-low for attempts, completions and passing yardage.

And it marked a troubling trend for the banged-up second-year quarterback.

Sacked 10 times during the final three games of the regular season, Flacco passed for only 166 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 102 yards against the Oakland Raiders and bottoming out with less than 40 yards against the Patriots.

It was a testament to his will that Flacco was able to handle himself adeptly against the Patriots.

“I felt pretty good, actually,” Flacco said. “When we got out there and adrenaline got going, obviously a little stiff. But I felt like what is asked of a quarterback, I was able to do everything.”

In the victorious visitors’ locker room, Flacco was definitely limping.

Despite the issues with his leg in the latest problem in a season where he has also had to contend with a sprained right ankle suffered when Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen stepped on his foot and a sore shoulder, Flacco persevered.

And he was adamant that he’s capable of launching it 30 times if called upon.

“Oh, definitely, without a doubt,” Flacco said. “I could drop back perfectly. I had to scramble a couple times and was able to do it. So, definitely, I could’ve done that.”

By halftime, Flacco had completed just 2 of 6 passes for nine yards for a 2.8 passer rating.

During the first game against New England, Flacco had a career-high 47 attempts. He wasn’t sacked by the Patriots, but Freeney and Mathis present a different kind of problem.

They have combined for 23 sacks this season, but didn’t get to Flacco once in the first meeting, a 17-15 Baltimore loss, where Flacco passed for 256 yards on 35 throws.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron downplayed the effect of Flacco’s injuries, saying it wasn’t a factor in the game plan.

“He wasn’t limited at all,” he said. “Joe basically took every snap in practice all week. It’s funny how when you have tall quarterbacks when they get a little dinged up, it looks worse than it does for a shorter guy.

“He’s fine. That’s another reason we drafted him. He’s tough, and our players know he’s tough. .. Joe is one tough kid. He’s been injured a lot this year, and he keeps playing through it.”

Cameron also said that the Ravens won’t hesitate to throw the ball a lot if they feel like the game plan and the matchups dictate such a strategy.

“I’d like to go through a game where you never threw a pass,” Cameron said. “Drew Brees and I used to joke about that. We almost did it in Cleveland one year.

Everybody wants the ball.

“My job is to call plays and help us win the game. Our backs are outstanding, our offensive linemen outstanding. That was this game. Come up this week, you never know. It could flip-flop and go the other way. We’re going to run the offense we think helps us win the game.”

It’s hard to believe, though, that the Ravens will be throwing a lot against the Colts. Not with the way Flacco is feeling and how Rice is running roughshod over defenders.

It’s been a long time and a lot of hits since Flacco threw the ball 47 times against the Patriots on Oct. 4.

"What we do is based on who we're playing," Cameron said. "The game plan went the way we wanted it to go, and the conditions were a little different. We were throwing the ball pretty good there [early in the season] and people changed their cover structure against us. Now they've gone to more of a two-shell defense, which helps your running game.

"I don't want to be stubborn. If they're going to give us the pass we'll take the pass. If they're going to play the defensive backs back, we're going to run the football. That’s what's going on. What's really changed is how people are defending us."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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