'Joe is our guy'

OWINGS MILLS -- Despite his mounting struggles with turnovers, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco isn't in danger of losing his job as he's been entrenched as the Baltimore Ravens' starter for the remainder of the season.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh reiterated that the first-round draft pick from Delaware will remain under center following the worst game of his short career as he threw a season-high three interceptions and fumbled twice in a 31-3 debacle Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

It was the third-largest margin of defeat in franchise history.

"We believe he's our starter," said Harbaugh, who previously declared that Flacco would stay the starter last week. "Joe's our guy. I'm never a guy that's going to sit up and here and say, 'Never, ever,' but I don't envision a scenario where Joe is not going to be our starter this year, save an injury."

Flacco has thrown seven interceptions this season and just one touchdown pass, the worst ratio in the NFL. He's the 29th-ranked quarterback in the NFL with a 60.0 passer rating.

Only the San Francisco 49ers' J.T. O'Sullivan has thrown more interceptions than Flacco with eight.

Following the rough tradition for most rookie starters, Flacco is having issues with the speed of the game, reading defenses and making quick decisions on the fly while being harassed by pass rushers. He was sacked four times against the Colts, including being decked three times by defensive end Robert Mathis.

"It's a combination of bad throws and bad decisions," Flacco said. "I threw two of them high and missed the guys, for some reason. I've just got to make better decisions."

Over the past two games, Flacco's ball security has regressed with five interceptions and one lost fumble. His lone touchdown pass this season was 10 quarters ago on a short throw to tight end Daniel Wilcox in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Against the Colts, Flacco's first interception was on his second pass of the game on the opening drive as his short toss intended for Mark Clayton was picked off by safety Melvin Bullitt.

Then, he failed to look off safety Antoine Bethea in the second quarter on a deep pass to the left sideline meant for Clayton that hung in the air too long.

The third interception occurred in the fourth quarter when Flacco was simply off on a poorly-delivered short pass to the flat intended for running back Ray Rice that defensive back Tim Jennings pounded on.

"When you take a look at each one of those, you know what happened," Harbaugh said. "It's just an issue of him learning from those mistakes. We keep saying that, but we don't want the turnovers next week. Looking off defenders is important, recognizing whether it's a two-deep, three-deep, which way they're rotating.

"It's putting screens on a guy when they're under pressure a little bit, finding a way to get around a defensive end. Those are things that he's going to learn how to do as we go. We're going to press real hard, and he's going to work hard to make it sooner rather than later."

Meanwhile, Flacco's issues have been contrasted by Atlanta Falcons rookie Matt Ryan. The third overall pick is the 17th-rated quarterback in the league (82.9) with five touchdowns and three interceptions.

Of course, he has the advantage of throwing to wide receiver Roddy White.

Against the Colts, Flacco completed 28 of 38 passes for a career-high 241 yards. However, he had a suspect 57.0 quarterback rating.

"Obviously, Joe will be harder on himself than anybody else," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "As players, we have to be behind him and support him through the good and the bad. He understands what he has to do. I don't want this situation to be a hindrance."

For now, it's a matter of patience as the Ravens walk a fine line between developing their prize rookie and trying to compete after losing three consecutive games.

The Ravens don't have many options with journeyman Todd Bouman currently backing up Flacco and former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith still not 100 percent after a tonsil infection that derailed his chance to seize the job during the preseason.

"This season is not about Joe Flacco's growth," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "It's about us having an opportunity to win. Whether he's a rookie or not, he's out there to help us win the football game."

There's essentially no vertical component to the Ravens' run-first offense. Flacco is averaging 5.86 yards per attempt to rank 26th in the league.

His longest throw is a 54-yard completion to Mason, who's his favorite target with a team-high 27 catches for 331 yards. There have been just five completions over 20 yards as Baltimore is averaging 9.4 yards per reception.

"At times, Joe could be coming back the other way, the way a coverage is rotating and a guy is coming open," Harbaugh said. "Other times, a guy is coming open and Joe has seen him, but then there's been somebody in his face maybe and he hasn't been able to get it off.

"Other times, guys have just been covered. Other times, they've been in the coverage and they made a nice play in the two-deep coverage where Joe threw it up at the left sideline, made a heck of a throw."

Although Flacco has remained poised despite some chaotic pass protection in a few games and his own accelerated learning curve, the Ravens expressed confidence that he is making steady progress.

One example of that was on display Sunday as Flacco opted to throw the football out of bounds rather than try to force it into a constricted space, an error in judgment that resulted in two interceptions the previous week in a 13-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

"It's a very complicated position to play," Harbaugh said. "I'm sure that Peyton Manning would tell you that, going into this game, there were some issues that confused him with our defense. So, it's not so basic as speed of the game.

"There were just a number of elements within a play, within a defense, within ways different guys play, that can confuse a quarterback. But I would not categorize him as being confused. I think he's learning."

It will be a virtual classroom for Flacco for the rest of the season as defenses will try every gambit in the book to try to befuddle and fluster the former Division I-AA star.

Lately, it has been a school of hard knocks for the New Jersey native.

"We've seen something different every week from each defense, and we're going to see something different for the next 11-plus weeks," Harbaugh said. "Joe's going to see some twist that he hasn't seen before from that defense. So, you've got to go out there and adjust."


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