You’ve heard me assign him a number of names: Average Joe, Mr. Mediocre, Sergeant So-So. But now I’d like to add another to the roster.
Joe Flacco, Mr. Irrelevant.
Yeah, I know that’s been given out to the last pick in each year’s draft, but when you think about it, no term more aptly applies to a player in the NFL today. Because no team wins more games without a major contribution from the most important position on the field than the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens sit on top of the AFC North with a stellar 7-2 record. Their QB, meanwhile, boasts these just-decent-enough stats: 88 rating with a 7.54 TPA.
A recent game vs. Cleveland sums up the situation perfectly. The Ravens won by a comfortable 10-point margin, with Flacco contributing a whopping 153 yards passing. We’ve seen this kind of game season after season. The Ravens win, Flacco puts up a buck-fifty passing, and Suggs goes on ESPN to tell us what an “elite” QB they’ve got there.
The Ravens also won a snorefest vs. KC in typical Mr. Irrelevant fashion: Flacco passing for all of 187 yards while notching a putrid 55.6 rating, while the feature back carries things with 102 yards on the ground.
Take away Joe Flacco from the Ravens, and you’d still have a winning team. (Take away Ray Rice, and that’s a different story). Because Joe Flacco in fact is the NFL’s true Mr. Irrelevant.
Why do I bring this up? There are a lot of people right now saying the Stillers have no shot to win Sunday without Ben Roethlisberger. I say they’re wrong.
The fact is, Byron Leftwich as a back-up is better than Joe Flacco as a starter.
No, Leftwich is no Roethlisberger. But the Stillers aren’t facing Ben Roethlisberger Sunday. They’re playing against Joe Flacco.
I personally don’t understand all the Leftwich hate right now. I’ve always liked him, and I’m glad the Stillers have him on the roster. In fact, the most significant injury the team suffered last year wasn’t to Roethlisberger, but to Leftwich – had they not lost him, they could’ve played him in that Monday Night game vs. San Francisco, affording Ben some crucial rest at a time when he desperately needed it. (With Batch, the team didn’t feel the same, and out on the field went Ben at a time when he should’ve been sidelined.) Roethlisberger stayed hurt, and the team never recovered.
There are back-ups and then there are back-ups. Leftwich is no career bench-warmer – he’s a former top draft pick who proved he could win in the NFL. In my mind Jacksonville made a mistake letting him go in favor of the great Garrard experiment. How’d that finally turn out?
Much has been made of the negatives: he’s got a lumpy build, he’s as mobile as a wounded goose, and of course, there’s that infamous wind-up. But let’s focus on the positives he brings:
He’s smart: No, I don’t mean he can explain string theory or interpret Proust – I do mean he’s got a brain for the game. Jock Bio sums it up: “His instincts and leadership skills were uncanny, however, and he became a three-sport varsity star in football, basketball and baseball.” Leftwich learned both street and football smarts growing up on the mean streets of inner-city Washington, D.C. All of which led to the next aspect of his character…
He’s tough: Leftwich once led a team to victory literally having to be carried by his teammates down the field. If you doubt it, take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-jzYMSiNHQ
He actually does have a “cannon for an arm”: With Leftwich the cliché is true. He throws the deep ball better than anyone on the team, including Roethlisberger, and the Stillers would be wise to take a few downfield shots Sunday. And here’s what people don’t get about that “wind-up” thing: he fires the ball so fast, it makes up for the delay.
Will beating the Ravens be tougher now with Ben out? Of course. The margin of error is now lessened, and if the Stillers are going to fumble or drop would-be interceptions, well, they’re not going to win. Same thing if Rice is going to bust a couple of 60-yard dashes. But last I looked, Mike Wallace was still fast, and with yet another Baltimore corner out for the game, the stage is set to burn the Ratbirds deep.
Monday Night Leftwich was thrown into a game not having played meaningful football in nearly two seasons. Under the circumstances I thought he did pretty well. Let’s see now what he can do with a full week of practice, and a game plan designed for what he does best.
If the Stillers can put up a couple of early scores, I’ll take my chances against Mr. Irrelevant. Just watch those patented Flacco “chuck it up and wait for the P.I. flag” bombs. And note to Mr. LeBeau – if it’s late in the game, and Flacco has the ball, how about this time you actually drop a few guys deep?
Enjoy the game!