Joe Flacco is feeling the pressure of being quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, and it has nothing to do with his $120.6 million contract or stature as MVP of the last Super Bowl.
Coming off an outstanding performance in the playoffs, Flacco has been chased, harassed and hit hard in the pocket. The Ravens have yielded 30 sacks in nine games this season, and countless other times Flacco has been forced to throw under duress.
"We're doing a good job against the four-man rushes," coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. "We've got to do a better job against the pressures."
Flacco was sacked five times Sunday in a 20-17 overtime win over Cincinnati. He threw two interceptions, lost a fumble in the pocket and finished with only 140 yards passing.
Getting little help from the league's 30th-ranked running game, Flacco has 12 touchdown passes, to 11 interceptions, and ranks 25th among NFL quarterbacks. During the postseason last year, he threw 11 TD passes and was not intercepted once.
That goes a long way toward explaining why the defending Super Bowl champions are 4-5 and struggling to remain relevant in the AFC playoff hunt.
"I think the No. 1 way to stop a good offense or stop any offense is put pressure on the quarterback," Flacco said. "It definitely affects you in some way."
Flacco is operating behind an offensive line that has three different starters — center Gino Gradkowski, left tackle Eugene Monroe and guard A.Q. Shipley. Gradkowski took over for the retired Matt Birk, Shipley came aboard during the offseason and Monroe was obtained in a trade last month to replace an ineffective Bryant McKinnie.
The unit might eventually come together, but for now it's struggling mightily against the blitz.
"Listen, teams are coming after us a little bit and we're kind of letting them," Flacco said. "We're not really doing anything to combat it. We haven't been good enough to stop it and do other things to get them out of it."
The Ravens have tried draw plays, screen passes and hastily run pass patterns. Nothing has worked.
"We got to hit them with stuff that makes it hurt. ... We just haven't been good enough to really have teams feel the negative effect of them doing it," Flacco said. "It's kind of been pretty positive for them. That's why they continue to do it."
So, if the offensive line is going to keep Flacco protected, it would appear the only option is to simply get better.
"I know we can do it. We've got a good scheme; we've got smart guys," Harbaugh said. "We have backs who are willing to pick guys up and stick their face in there and block people. Ray Rice is a premier back and he's also an excellent pass-protection guy."
This may be true, but as a team, the Ravens just aren't getting it done when it comes to surrounding the highest-paid and most important player on the team. Flacco has been sacked five times in three of Baltimore's last four games.
Not surprisingly, Baltimore lost three of those.
"There's a lot of it involved as far as us getting on the right guys and then it's one-on-one blocks and then it's receivers getting open," guard Marshal Yanda said. "It's the quarterback throwing the ball on time. It's a combination of all of those things. Sometimes it's either a missed block or a blitz where we didn't pick up the right guy or they brought too many and we had to throw hot."
Baltimore can only hope for improvement Sunday in Chicago (5-4). The Ravens are 0-2 at Soldier Field (falling in 1998 and 2005) and 1-4 this season on the road.
Notes: Harbaugh said the team has no interest in signing former Ravens safety Ed Reed, who was cut by Houston on Tuesday. "There are no plans to change our secondary personnel at this time. We're happy with what we have. Our guys are playing well," he said. ... UFC light heavyweight champ Jon "Bones" Jones addressed the players after their morning walk through.
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