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The biggest story during Ravens training camp was Joe Flacco’s back.
But that was back, no pun intended, in August.
After sitting out the entire preseason, Flacco suited up for the Ravens’ Week 1 game in Cincinnati and hasn’t missed a start – and hardly a snap – all season. But that doesn’t mean his back was 100 percent that whole time.
Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has noticed Flacco moving around better to extend plays the past couple weeks, which has led to better play overall, and attributed it to Flacco’s improved health.
“I think he’s a little bit more healthy than he has [been],” Mornhinweg said Thursday. “I think people forget [that] he came in with a little back issue. Three or four days of practice to start the season.
“My thought, looking back on it, was let’s be in the thing about midseason and [have] Joe healthy, because I thought that would be key. Here we are, and he’s about as healthy as he’s been all year.”
Mornhinweg indicated that he game-planned and called games differently at the start of the season when Flacco may have been still dealing with some back issues.
Flacco attempted fewer than 20 passes in two of the Ravens’ first three games and wasn’t taking many shots down the field. Part of being more aggressive is giving plays enough time to develop.
Early on, the Ravens got the ball out of Flacco’s hands quickly, in part because of an injury-riddled offensive line that was being shuffled and finding its legs, and perhaps because of Flacco’s back.
Flacco converted some first downs with his legs in the Ravens’ 23-16 win over the Houston Texans in Week 12. He ran six times for 42 yards.
Last Sunday against the Detroit Lions, Flacco didn’t run, but used his legs to buy more time to throw, giving Baltimore’s receivers more time to get open and unleashing a more dangerous attack. Flacco also moved well on both bootleg play-action touchdown passes he threw.
It was Flacco’s finest game of the season, as he completed 23-of-36 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. It’s the kind of performance he’d like to replicate, or improve on, this Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
The improvement is multi-tiered. Flacco was also protected better by his offensive line, which has given up just six sacks over the past five games. It gave up 17 sacks over the previous seven contests.
“It starts up front,” Mornhinweg said, adding that he went back to watch tape from earlier this year and noticed a difference in how the offensive line is playing. “We’re better up front, just from the reps and the fellas working together.”