When the Broncos acquired Joe Flacco in a trade with the Ravens, the feelings about the deal were decidedly mixed.
On one side, the naysayers saw a 34-year-old quarterback who was on the downside of his career. He had just been beaten out by Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, an inauspicious end to his career with the team. But the move was probably warranted, given that Flacco had posted a very pedestrian 24-27 record across his final four seasons with the Ravens, while missing 13 starts.
The counter argument, however, suggested that the quarterback just needed a change of scenery. Flacco’s career record of 96-67 proved that he was a winner, as did his Super Bowl MVP award. He has a big arm, something not seen in Denver the past three seasons with Trevor Siemian and Case Keenum at the helm, and he doesn’t get rattled in big situations, which is how he’s gone 10-5 during his career in postseason starts.
But the No. 1 thing those in favor of Flacco used to support the trade was the fact that the quarterback excelled when Gary Kubiak was his offensive coordinator in Baltimore. Specifically, he had a great year in 2014, posting some of the best numbers of his career (3,986 yards, 27 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions). With the Broncos running a similar offense under Rich Scangarello, it stands to reason that Flacco would post similar numbers in Denver.
It’s not just the system that made that Ravens offense a good fit for Flacco. As Zach Bye pointed out on Wednesday afternoon during “Stokley and Zach” (FM 104.3 The Fan | M-F | 12p-3p), there were other variables that played a big part in the quarterback’s success. If the Broncos want him to mirror those results this season, they need to create an environment that is eerily familiar with the 2014 edition of the Ravens.
1. Play Great Defense
In 2014, the Ravens boasted a top-10 defense in almost every statistical category. They were eighth in total defense and sixth in points allowed, surrendering just 18.875 points per outing. That’ll keep a team in almost every game.
How did they do it? First and foremost, they were stout against the run, giving up the fourth-fewest yards in the league that season. They also had a dynamic pass rush, with Elvis Dumervil (17.0) and Terrell Suggs (12.0) combining for nearly 30 sacks.
The Broncos also boast a strong defense, but it’s not quite built the same way the Ravens were constructed. Stopping the run is a big concern in Denver, as that’s been an issue in recent seasons.
Denver can, however, get after the passer like they did in Baltimore. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb have the makings of a duo equal to Dumervil and Suggs.
2. Run the Football
On the season, the 2014 Ravens racked up more than 2,000 total rushing yards, led by Justin Forsett’s 1,266. They also scored 16 touchdowns on the ground, the fifth-most in the league that season.
While a solid running back, Forsett was nothing special during his career. In fact, that 2014 campaign was the only time he cracked the 1,000-yard barrier during his career.
So there’s no reason why the Broncos can’t produce similar rushing numbers in this offense. Will Phillip Lindsay or Royce Freeman reach nearly 1,300 yards like Forsett? Maybe not. But the duo will almost certainly post the 1,632 that Forsett and Bernard Pierce combined for in the Kubiak system.
3. Have a Solid Wideout Duo
When Flacco posted his big numbers, he amassed most of his yards and touchdowns by throwing to his starting wide receivers. That season, Steve Smith had 79 catches for 1,065 yards and six scores, while Torrey Smith had 49 grabs for 767 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Those numbers are right in the wheelhouse for the Broncos starting wideouts in 2019. Emmanuel Sanders should be able to easily eclipse Smith’s numbers, serving as the go-to guy in Denver’s passing game. And Courtland Sutton will provide the big-play and red-zone target, giving him ample opportunities to reach Smith’s totals.
Last season, Sanders had 868 yards in just 12 games, while Sutton had 704 yards as a rookie. Both should be able to improve on those totals with better health, more experience and an upgrade at quarterback.
4. Utilize the Tight End
The most-often repeated phrase in Denver the past few months is “Joe Flacco loves to throw to the tight end.” It’s been said so many times that it’s almost a shock any time the quarterback spins the football in the direction of anyone else.
While it might be a bit hyperbolic to suggest Flacco is enamored with the short passing game to tight ends, he has had some success utilizing the part of the offense. In 2014, that came in the form of Owen Daniels, who caught 48 passes for 527 yards and four touchdowns.
There’s no reason why Noah Fant, the No. 20 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, can’t exceed those numbers. That’s only three catches for 33 yards per game, with a score once every four outings. If that’s what Fant produces as a rookie, his season will most likely be considered a disappointment.
5. Take Care of the Football
In 2014, the Ravens only committed 20 turnovers. Flacco threw 12 picks, while his offensive teammates committed eight fumbles. Only five NFL teams had less miscues on the season.
Last year, for all of their faults, the Broncos produced similar numbers. They threw 15 combined interceptions and fumbled six times, for a grand total of 21 turnovers. In an otherwise dreadful offensive season, Denver’s ability to take care of the football was a rare bright spot.
This season, they should be able to match those numbers. Flacco is a veteran quarterback who knows how to take care of the ball. And the same stable of running backs and receivers who were so sure-handed a season ago largely returns intact in 2019.
In 2014, the Ravens went 10-6, beat the Steelers on the road in the AFC Wild Card Game and had the Patriots on the ropes in the Divisional Round before falling 35-31 at Gillette Stadium.
If the Broncos can do the five things listed above, following the formula that Baltimore used to find success with Joe Flacco at quarterback, there’s no reason they can’t have a similar type of result in 2019.
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