The Ravens spent the first dozen years of their existence looking for a franchise quarterback. Names like Chris Redman and Kyle Boller and Troy Smith litter the scrap heap of draft picks taken before the team traded up in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft to take Joe Flacco.
The plan was for Boller to start during Flacco's rookie season but a preseason injury derailed those plans. All Flacco did was help the Ravens, who had missed the playoffs three of the four previous years, to five straight postseason appearances, including a Super Bowl victory in February 2013. During those first five seasons Flacco was 54-26 with 94 touchdowns and 46 touchdowns. In the four-plus seasons since? Flacco, for the most part, has looked like a completely different player. He's 32-33 with 80 touchdowns and 61 touchdowns.
"Quarterback wins" is a terrible way to judge a quarterback's efficiency. Luckily, Football Outsiders has an efficiency metric that does just that. Here's where Flacco has ranked in passer efficiency during his career:
- 2008: 19th
- 2009: 14th
- 2010: 11th
- 2011: 14th
- 2012: 17th
- 2013: 40th
- 2014: 8th
- 2015: 27th
- 2016: 30th
- 2017: 31st
Perhaps most amazing is that Football Outsiders' efficiency metric is cumulative -- one game builds on the next and the numbers add up over the course of the season. Flacco played just 10 games in 2015 before suffering a knee injury; his efficiency metric that season is better than it was in 2013, 2016 and 2017, seasons where he started every game. In fact, his 31st rank this season is second-to-last in the league ahead of only Browns rookie DeShone Kizer, who has already been benched twice. And just ahead of Flacco? Mike Glennon, who was benched after four games and hasn't played since. Put another way: A terrible quarterback on a terrible offense has been more efficient through four games this season than Flacco has through seven. It gets more depressing: The names ahead of Glennon include the likes of Josh McCown, Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer.
And more depressing still: Flacco is also 31st (again, ahead of only Kizer) in Pro Football Focus' passer-rating metric, 27th when under pressure, 30th in deep passing efficiency and 30th when facing no pressure in the pocket. There are two possible explanations for this beyond Flacco's deterioration: A suspect offensive line and a lack of pass catchers.
Turns out, the Ravens' offensive line -- even one beset by losses to key players like Marshal Yanda, Nico Siragusa and Alex Lewis, all of whom are on injured reserve -- has been pretty good. The unit ranks 10th in pass-blocking, according to PFF's metric, and Football Outsiders ranks them 11th.
Which brings us to the wide receivers...
According to PFF, its Wide Receiver Rating (WRR) "shows the quarterback rating when a receiver is thrown at." The Ravens' wideout with the highest WRR is Griff Whalen. This is the same Griff Whalen who was signed last week after being cut in the preseason and hauled in four catches for 23 yards in his 2017 debut on Sunday against the Vikings. Whalen's WRR is 85.8, which ranks 88th among all wide receivers. Then there's Jeremy Maclin, who ranks 98th; Mike Wallace, who ranks 128th; Michael Campanero, who ranks 140th; and six spots from the very bottom of the list is 2015 first-rounder Breshad Perriman, who ranks 176th.
Somehow, it gets worse. Injuries continue to pile up on the offensive side of the ball. In Sunday's loss to the Vikings, the Ravens' inactive players included wideouts Maclin, Perriman and Chris Matthews; running back Terrance West; guard Matt Skura and tight end Maxx Williams. Wallace suffered a concussion in the first quarter and didn't return.
"This is a little uncharted territory for -- I don't know how many teams have had this many injuries on offense," coach John Harbaugh said Monday, via ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley. "We have a lot of tough guys. We talked to them just now. It's about mental toughness. It's about just going out there, and you have to put everything aside and ignore the noise and go out there and fight. We have a bunch of guys that I know will do that. I'm looking forward to see how it plays out."
For some perspective, consider this stat, courtesy of Hensley: Through the first seven weeks, the Ravens have almost as many players on injured reserve (nine) as offensive touchdowns (10).
There is no quick fix, no easy solution, and the reality is that Harbaugh has few options.
"We will have 11 on the field. I promise you that. That much we can guarantee," he said.
If you're looking for a silver lining amid the dark clouds parked over M&T Bank Stadium, Flacco tries to provide one.
"You go back to work. You get better. You look at where you made mistakes," Flacco said, after the Ravens managed just 208 yards on offense against the Vikings. "But I wouldn't say overall that we're trying to fix something that's completely broken. We can't look at it that way.
"We have to keep our heads up and play one game at a time. This is where we are right now and there's nothing we can do to go back in time right now and change it. We work hard. We're in the building 24/7 trying to get everything as good as it can be, so we're going to continue to do that."
Life after Cutler
Jay Cutler, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal to replace injured Ryan Tannehill, has not been very good. And on Thursday, we'll get to see backup Matt Moore, who provided the Dolphins with a spark Sunday after replacing Cutler, who suffered several broken ribs and will be sidelined this week.
How good was Moore? He helped the Dolphins overcome a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to the Jets in which he threw for 188 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
And how bad was Cutler during the first month and a half? He ranked 28th in QB efficiency, according to Football Outsiders (hey, he was better than Flacco!), completed 62.8 percent of his throws with seven touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 78.8.
Moore, who started three games last year, including the Dolphins' wild-card matchup against the Steelers, has the full confidence of the coaching staff.
"He's a fireball," offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said this week. "He comes in there flinging it. He's fun to watch and I'm glad he's on our side. You don't have any doubt when he goes in there that he's going to make something happen and give yourself a chance to win the thing. ...
"He's an electric guy. He works every day. He comes out there and he's the pied piper. He takes young guys under his wing. He's a popular guy in the locker room and I think that his energy is contagious."
If Moore plays well the questions about whether he should permanently replace Cutler will only intensify -- and rightly so. The Dolphins were a playoff team a year ago and now, through seven weeks, have been identified as one of the league's eight worst teams by Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz, who writes:
"Perhaps the most surprising team in the Awful Eight is Miami. After all, the Dolphins are 4-2. What the hell are they doing down with the winless San Francisco 49ers? The answer is that Miami has not been good. Their four wins all have come by less than a touchdown, against an easy schedule. They also got shut out 20-0 by New Orleans and lost to the Jets 20-6. They've gotten lucky from opposing field goal kickers missing 5 of 12 kicks..."
The last time we met
The Ravens hosted the Dolphins on Dec. 4, 2016 and cruised to a 24-0 lead before winning, 38-6. Barring the unforeseen, we can't imagine these teams, as currently constituted, combine for 44 points. In case you're wondering, Vegas has set the over-under at 37.5.
Back in December, Flacco threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns, both season highs. Two of Flacco's touchdowns went to tight end Dennis Pitta, who was released in June days after suffering a hip injury during offseason workouts.
Dispatches from Fantasy Island
CBSSports.com Fantasy expert Jamey Eisenberg has your need-to-know ahead of Thursday's matchup.
Add QB Matt Moore: Moore has a terrible matchup this week at Baltimore on Thursday night, but he might prove to be Miami's starter for several weeks, depending on how long Cutler is out. Moore scored 17 Fantasy points after replacing Cutler in Week 7 against the Jets, and he has now scored at least 17 points in his past four regular-season games going back to last year. Moore is worth three percent of your FAAB dollars.
Add RB Alex Collins: Collins isn't coming off a great game in Week 7 at Minnesota with just 10 carries for 30 yards. He also hasn't scored a touchdown yet this year or caught a pass. But he could play well against the Dolphins in Week 8 given the short week and the game at home. Miami also has allowed a rushing touchdown in all three road games this year. I also like Collins as a stash candidate because if the Ravens start to increase his workload, he could become a quality Fantasy option. He's worth at least three percent of your FAAB dollars.
Add WR Kenny Stills: Stills is better than Doctson and Smith-Schuster if you need a one-week replacement at receiver, although he doesn't have the best matchup at Baltimore on Thursday. Still, Stills has scored in consecutive games without Parker, who isn't expected to play against the Ravens, and Stills has a solid rapport with Moore. In the last four regular-season games where Moore has appeared going back to last year, Stills has caught a touchdown. He's worth at least five percent of your FAAB dollars.
Add TE Benjamin Watson: Watson has combined for nine Fantasy points in his past four games, but he's due to break out of his slump, which could happen this week against the Dolphins. The Ravens are banged up at receiver, and he does have 13 targets in his past two games against Chicago and Minnesota. He's combined for 11 catches and 66 yards over that span, so all that's missing is a touchdown. And the Dolphins have allowed four tight ends to score at least seven Fantasy points in a standard league this year. He's worth at least three percent of your FAAB dollars.
They said this
"Settling for field goals sometimes is winning football." -- Flacco, pretty much conceding that Justin Tucker is the Ravens' biggest offensive weapon
Who ya got?
Two of seven CBSSports.com experts have the Ravens beating the Dolphins and covering the 3.0-point spread. Pete Prisco is not one of those experts.
"It will be Matt Moore starting at quarterback for the Dolphins for the injured Jay Cutler. He was good in relief against the Jets, but he faces a tougher challenge here. This is a game that will be decided by the two defenses. I think it will be Miami that will find a way to win a close one." -- Prisco, who has the Dolphins winning, 17-16.