‘We ... need to be bet­ter than we are’

After Trest­man’s fir­ing, Flacco blames him­self for of­fense’s strug­gles

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec

With his new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, Marty Morn­hin­weg, stand­ing about 10 yards be­hind him, Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco launched a deep pass after prac­tice Wednes­day that wide re­ceiver Bre­shad Per­ri­man ran un­der and caught in stride.

As Morn­hin­weg and backup quar­ter­back Ryan Mal­lett threw their hands up in the air to sig­nify a touch­down and the end of the post­prac­tice throw­ing ses­sion, Flacco sto­ically turned around and headed to­ward the podium, where re­porters were Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Giants by 3 IN­SIDE: Rookie Stan­ley ‘very happy’ with re­cov­ery from foot in­jury wait­ing.

For about six min­utes, Flacco fielded ques­tions and gave clipped an­swers in a hushed tone. He didn’t say much about the Mon­day fir­ing of of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marc Trest­man, but he did make clear that he felt re­spon­si­bil­ity for the part­ner­ship’s not work­ing out.

“I’m the guy. If there is a guy to look at, it’s the quar­ter­back,” Flacco said. “That is where a lot of that comes from.”

Flacco said he spoke to Trest­man on Tues­day — a dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion be­cause of the good re­la­tion­ship the two had de­vel­oped over the past two sea­sons. He said his ini­tial re­ac­tion to hear­ing the news was dis­ap­point­ment that the of­fense had played poorly enough that coach John Har­baugh felt a change was needed.

“I feel bad that we haven’t been who we wanted to be,” Flacco said. “We def­i­nitely need to be bet­ter than we are.”

Flacco, who is work­ing with his fifth of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in as many sea­sons, didn’t en­dorse the fir­ing of Trest­man, nor did he dis­pute it. The con­sen­sus around the Ravens locker room Wednes­day, though, was that a change was nec­es­sary with the Ravens of­fense ranked 22nd in the NFL and mired in a deep slump as it pre­pares for Sun­day’s game against the New York Giants (2-3).

“Marc Trest­man is a great guy, a great coach. It was dif­fi­cult to see him go, but I think it was some­thing that this of­fense needed,” said Ravens vet­eran tight end Den­nis Pitta, Flacco’s clos­est friend on the team. “We were in kind of a bad place. It didn’t seem like we were get­ting out of it. Hope­fully, this will spark us. Marty is a great coach, and we have a lot of faith in him. He brings an en­ergy and an ex­cite­ment to our of­fense that we needed.”

Wide re­ceiver Ka­mar Aiken ex­pressed hope that Morn­hin­weg will give the wide re­ceivers more wig­gle room on their routes. Mike Wal­lace ex­pressed con­fi­dence that if more deep shots were called, the Ravens have the per­son­nel to make big plays. A num­ber of play­ers spoke about the im­por­tance of get­ting back to a more bal­anced of­fense.

Ul­ti­mately, the fail­ure to es­tab­lish and main­tain a run­ning game — the Ravens set a fran­chise low for rush­ing at­tempts last year and rank 22nd in rushes per game in 2016 — and to cre­ate big plays down­field fig­ured promi­nently in Trest­man’s un­do­ing.

As the Ravens quar­ter­backs coach since the be­gin­ning of last sea­son, Morn­hin­weg, a for­mer of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for the San Fran­cisco 49ers, Philadel­phia Ea­gles and New York Jets, is cer­tainly cognizant of the of­fense’s short­com­ings. His most im­por­tant task, though, is mak­ing things eas­ier on Flacco, who in re­cent weeks has looked frus­trated and con­fused with the di­rec­tion of the Ravens of­fense.

“I just got a sense, the way his body lan­guage is and the way he was talk­ing, that he was real frus­trated with how things were go­ing, and for good rea­son,” said for­mer NFL quar­ter­back Steve Beuer­lein, who sat down with Flacco be­fore the Ravens’ loss to the Oak­land Raiders this month as part of his broad­cast­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for the NFL on CBS. “He didn’t say any­thing; he didn’t throw any­body un­der the bus. There were just a cou­ple of mo­ments where I sat there and thought to my­self, ‘He’s re­ally frus­trated. He’s strug­gling right now.’ It is show­ing on the field. It’s not just him. It’s the way the whole of­fense is run­ning.”

Beuer­lein said he be­lieves the nine-year Quar­ter­back Joe Flacco is sacked Sun­day by the Red­skins’ Ter­ence Garvin, be­hind, and Trent Mur­phy. Wash­ing­ton had 23 quar­ter­back hur­ries, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus. vet­eran is one of the best quar­ter­backs in the league when he gets in rhythm. The prob­lem has been that Flacco never has reached that point this sea­son, and at times, he’s mor­phed into a dink-and-dunk passer, which does not take ad­van­tage of his strong arm and ag­gres­sive men­tal­ity.

Flacco’s 216 pass at­tempts lead the NFL, but he’s av­er­ag­ing just 5.9 yards per throw. The only quar­ter­back with a worse av­er­age is the San Fran­cisco 49ers’ Blaine Gab­bert, who was just benched for Colin Kaeper­nick. While Flacco is first in at­tempts, he’s just 11th in pass­ing yards (1,282), an in­di­ca­tion of how in­ef­fi­cient the Ravens pass­ing game has been.

“He’s thrown an in­cred­i­ble amount of passes,” Beuer­lein said. “I think he un­der­stands that it’s im­por­tant to have a bal­anced of­fense and to do things that kind of ac­cent the strengths of the foot­ball team, and I don’t know he felt that was hap­pen­ing un­der Trest­man, at least this year. I think one of the things that Marty re­ally needs to do is just fo­cus on get­ting Joe back to a good place men­tally, where he feels good about where things are pro­gress­ing and head­ing, and let Joe maybe have some in­put in what they are do­ing and what he feels good about, and the things he wants to see maybe em­pha­sized more so he can kind of take some own­er­ship into it.”

Flacco isn’t blame­less, nor are his team­mates. The of­fen­sive line has strug­gled might­ily, and al­lowed 23 quar­ter­back hur­ries in the Ravens’ loss to the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins on Sun­day, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus. Ravens re­ceivers have had sev­eral big-play op­por­tu­ni­ties go right through their hands.

“It’s ex­e­cu­tion, it’s con­cepts, it’s a whole bunch of things,” Aiken said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s just Trest­man. There were some plays that we prob­a­bly could have made and didn’t.”

Flacco also has missed sev­eral mak­able throws and failed to step up in the pocket on other oc­ca­sions. Re­cently, he seems to be rev­ert­ing to bad habits and throw­ing off his back foot too of­ten. Some­times, Flacco said, it’s been out of ne­ces­sity. Other times, he ac­knowl­edged, his me­chan­ics have bro­ken down.

“There have been def­i­nitely times with that, yeah,” Flacco said. “I can think of one throw that I missed to Crock­ett [Gill­more] in Sun­day’s game. When you have guys fly­ing at you, some­times you’re just try­ing to find soft spots in the pocket to throw the ball. I would say ev­ery quar­ter­back deals with that a lit­tle bit.”

Some of Flacco’s early-sea­son strug­gles were to be ex­pected. The Ravens have a re­vamped of­fen­sive line and a cou­ple of new tar­gets on the out­side. Flacco is also only about 10 months re­moved from hav­ing surgery to re­pair a torn ACL and MCLin his left knee. Beuer­lein be­lieves not enough has been made of the dif­fi­cult phys­i­cal ad­just­ments Flacco has had to make, in­clud­ing wear­ing a knee brace and the ef­fects of los­ing most of the off­sea­son to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Flacco hasn’t used the health of his knee as an ex­cuse, nor has he pub­licly blamed Trest­man for some of his play. The Ravens, though, be­lieved some­thing needed to change, and they cer­tainly need their fran­chise quar­ter­back to play bet­ter. The hope is that the pro­mo­tion of Morn­hin­weg is a step to­ward that.

“I do think ev­ery­body is re­spon­si­ble for putting the quar­ter­back, es­pe­cially, in a po­si­tion to be as good as he can be,” Har­baugh said. “That’s the whole key to the thing in the end: how good your quar­ter­back plays.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Joe Flacco walks off the field after the Ravens’ loss Sun­day to the Red­skins. “I feel bad that we haven’t been who we wanted to be,” Flacco said of the of­fense’s play. Sun­day’s game against the Giants will be his first un­der new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Broncos (4-1) at Charg­ers (1-4) 8:25 p.m., CBS, NFL | The Charg­ers are go­ing to put up some num­bers, and they will hang tough, but this one will be de­cided by the Broncos de­fense. The Charg­ers have lost their last 10 games against AFC West op­po­nents. Broncos 27, Charg­ers 23

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