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If Ravens want to dig out of 0–3 hole, Flacco needs to start delivering late

If the Baltimore Ravens want to climb out of their 0–3 hole, they're going to need quarterback Joe Flacco to start delivering late in close games. 

When you’re a talented team that is off to an 0–3 start, even against a challenging open to the schedule, there are usually multiple things that need to be improved on. That’s exactly where the Ravens are at this point heading into a Thursday night game against the rival Steelers.

Missing left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion) and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (season-ending Achilles surgery) has been an issue. The offensive line hasn’t protected well enough or cleared enough room for the run. The Ravens are having to scheme pressure without Suggs, and that’s putting stress on a shaky secondary.

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There’s another issue, however, that hasn’t gotten enough attention. While he hasn’t been a big part of the problem and some of the other issues negatively affect him, quarterback Joe Flacco just hasn’t been good enough. If you’re getting paid an average of $20 million, you’re supposed to be able to mask some of the other deficiencies on your team. Flacco’s not doing it.

In the four games dating back to last year’s playoff loss to the Patriots, Flacco has had the ball in his hands late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win, tie or put the game out of reach. He’s 0-for-4 in those opportunities. In fact, Flacco has lost his last seven opportunities in those situations going back to last season. Flacco’s most recent come-from-behind victory came in Week 3 last season when he drove the Ravens 37 yards in six plays (they took over at the 50-yard line) for a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat the Browns 23–21.

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His ESPN QBR of 46.5, which is “clutch weighted,” is ahead of Drew Brees and Andrew Luck, but it’s still ranked 24th in the league. Flacco finished 10th last season (67.0).

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Last season, and over his career, Flacco’s statistics have been fairly consistent by quarter, including the fourth when he completed 61.9% of his passes with a 7.93 yards per attempt average and a 99.7 rating. For his career, Flacco is 61.9%, 7.2 and 87.5 in the final quarter.

This season in the fourth quarter, Flacco has completed just 51.2% of his passes with a 5.72 average and a 56.9 rating. 

Here’s a look at his end-of-game struggles over this season and last season, starting with the most recent:

Bengals 28, Ravens 24, Week 3 of 2015 season: Before guard Kelechi Osmele’s facemask penalty negated a fourth down conversion, Flacco threw low and incomplete on a short third down to Steve Smith on what could have gone for a big gain had it been complete. On fourth-and-17, Flacco couldn’t connect with rookie tight end Maxx Williams on a bomb. Running back Justin Forsett was open underneath and could have converted had he made one player miss in the open field, an opportunity Flacco should have given him.

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Raiders 37, Ravens 33, Week 2 of 2015 season: With the game tied at 30, Baltimore’s maligned defense made a play when Will Hill’s interception of Derek Carr set up the offense at the Oakland 37-yard line. Flacco completed 1 of 3 passes for 11 yards (he missed a wide open Smith in the end zone on third down) and Baltimore had to settle for a field goal. The Raiders won the game with a touchdown on the next drive. Yes, the loss goes to the defense because you should win every game when you score 33 points, but had the offense had done its job, Oakland’s score should have only set it to overtime.

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Broncos 19, Ravens 13, Week 1 of 2015 season: Baltimore drove 62 yards in 11 plays to get into position to win the game at the Denver 16-yard line in the season opener. On first down, Flacco was hit as he threw. On second down, a possible touchdown was dropped by Smith, who was distracted by the defensive back going for the ball. The third down pass in the end zone could have been hauled in by tight end Crockett Gilmore, but the pass was, ultimately, slightly underthrown and intercepted. With a down to play with, Flacco needed to put that pass where only his receiver could come down with it. He did not.

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Patriots 35, Ravens 31, divisional round of 2014 playoffs: To be fair, Flacco was nearly flawless all game and was the main reason why the underdog, beaten up Ravens had two 14-point leads at New England during this game. But then he floated a pass off his back foot into double coverage, on second-and-five from the Patriots' 36-yard line with 1:46 to play, and it was easily intercepted by Duron Harmon to send the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game.

Chargers 34, Ravens 33, Week 13 of 2014 season: Baltimore left the door open for a San Diego comeback after only getting a field goal, which made the score 33–27, despite having the ball at the Chargers’ 30-yard line with 3:29 to play (Flacco was 1 of 2 for 12 yards). The Chargers took the lead and the Ravens needed a field goal to win with the ball at their own 14 with 32 seconds remaining and one timeout. A tough situation, but not impossible. They didn't get the chance to try for one, as Flacco was 2 of 4 on the drive for 28 yards.

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Bengals 27, Ravens 24, Week 8 of 2014 season: After again only getting a field goal with good field position (at the Cincinnati 43-yard line) when a touchdown would have given Baltimore an eight-point lead, the Ravens trailed with no timeouts, 57 seconds left, the ball on their 20 with a field goal needed for overtime. A game-winning touchdown to Smith was wiped out by offensive pass interference, and Flacco wound up 1 of 4 on the drive for 13 yards.

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Colts 20, Ravens 13, Week 5 of 2014 season: Indianapolis fumbled at the Baltimore 10-yard line to give the Ravens a final shot. Flacco was 3 of 7 for 40 yards on the drive with a sack. The drive ended on fourth-and-three at the Baltimore 43-yard line with 27 seconds left when Flacco threw incomplete deep to Torrey Smith.

Combined on those seven final drives, Flacco was 19 of 41 (46.3%) for 191 yards (4.7 average), no touchdowns and two interceptions (39.8 rating).

Flacco isn’t the big problem in the Ravens’ 0–3 start (they have a lot of them, including a lack of experienced targets for Flacco, which is clearly frustrating him) and he’s played some good football at times. But when you're paid as much as Flacco is, you’re expected to lift the team to a few wins while the rest of the roster figures things out. Tom Brady did it last year for a scuffling Patriots squad. Luck found a way to win on Sunday against the Titans despite putting his Colts in a hole.

The bottom line is that Flacco has had a chance to do just that in each of the Ravens’ first three games, and he hasn’t gotten the job done in any of them. It’s a trend that isn’t just an aberration because it happened last season as well. But it needs to end if the Ravens have any hope of climbing out of their 0–3 hole.