OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Lost in the dropoff in the Baltimore Ravens' running game this season has been another sharp decline on offense -- the deep passing game.
Last season, Joe Flacco was the best big-play quarterback late in the season and in the playoffs. Now, he's among the worst at getting the ball 20 yards downfield.
The lack of explosive plays is a major reason why the Ravens have the third-fewest yards on offense this season.
"It’s the hardest ball to complete," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "Obviously, it’s been frustrating, but if we get a couple of those to go in a game like we did in the past, it will do wonders for our team.”
Should Flacco challenge Reed? If he watched the Jets' game film against the Bills, he knows he has to test Reed. Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel threw 34- and 43-yard scoring passes, and Reed was late with deep help on the latter touchdown.
Jets coach Rex Ryan said allowing big pass plays has been his team's "Achilles heel."
Getting the ball downfield hasn't been a strength of the Ravens this season, which is surprising considering how Flacco played in the postseason. The Ravens haven't had their intermediate and red-zone targets (Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta), but they still have the same fast receivers with Smith and Jacoby Jones.
Last season, in six games with Jim Caldwell as the offensive coordinator, Flacco completed 50 percent of his passes (19 of 38) that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. He threw five touchdowns and no interceptions for a 135.4 passer rating.
This season, in 10 games with Caldwell calling the plays, Flacco has connected on 21.7 percent (10 of 46) of those throws. He has thrown no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 47.8 passer rating.
What's the difference between last season and this season?
“Oftentimes, you can’t pinpoint exactly what it was," Caldwell said. "We’ve taken a few shots here and there. We just haven’t been able to connect as often as we like, and that’s something that we continue to work on. Obviously, we think we do have speed. [We have] a quarterback that has a strong arm with speed that can stretch the field, not only vertically but horizontally as well. We continue to work on it; we continue to try to get better. It’s not quite where you want to be yet, but we continue to work on it.”
Flacco is the only quarterback in the NFL this season who has thrown at least 19 passes longer than 20 yards and doesn't have a touchdown on one of those deep throws. Even Jets rookie Geno Smith has three touchdowns on passes that have been in the air for at least 20 yards.
"We have guys on the outside that can do that and can get deep, and we have to do our job and take those chances," Flacco said. "We probably haven’t been taking as many as normal, and we probably haven’t been as successful as we normally would be when we do. That’s kind of how we’ve been with every facet of our game this year."
It's not for a lack of trying. Flacco's 46 passes over 20 yards is the sixth-most in the NFL. But his 21.7 completion rate on those passes ranks 33rd in the NFL. Only Manuel and Josh Freeman have struggled more in completing deep passes.
"I think that’s something we work on," coach John Harbaugh said. "To analyze it and put the reasons out there wouldn’t really help us as a football team. We’ll let people figure that out for themselves. Our task is to get better at it. You need big plays -- that’s for sure. You need big plays. You need chunk plays in the run game, you need over-the-top pass plays, and you need catch-and-run pass plays. Those are things that make the difference for you."