Flacco Leads NFL In Fumbles

With Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis coming to town, Joe Flacco must protect the ball.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Wednesday, December 7th, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink

There’s plenty quarterback Joe Flacco has done well this season.

Leading the NFL in fumbles is not on the list, however.

After being stripped in Cleveland on Sunday, Flacco has now fumbled 11 times and lost six. He’s got one more fumble than St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, who has the second-most in the league.

Flacco said there’s a fine line between trying to make a play versus pulling the ball down and living to punt.

“I’m doing all I can to keep two hands on the ball and not let that kind of stuff happen. They got one on me Sunday. I was trying to make a play,” Flacco said.

“I’ve just got to do a better job sometimes of keeping guys away from swiping at the ball.”

Flacco had 11 fumbles as a rookie in 2008, but only lost two. He improved to eight fumbles in 2009, then had nine in 2010.

Flacco fumbled in seven straight games earlier this season, including two against the St. Louis Rams and two against the Arizona Cardinals. It was a span of nine fumbles in seven games.

He’d done better lately, with one in the past three games entering Cleveland. But Browns rookie defensive end Jabaal Sheard got to him on Sunday.

Sheard looped around right tackle Michael Oher and Flacco wisely stepped up in the pocket. But as Flacco brought his arm up to pass, he was hit and stripped from behind. The Browns, who were trailing by 10 points in the third quarter, took over possession near midfield.

“You can’t turn the ball over,” Harbaugh said, saying that applies to quarterbacks and everybody else.

“If you turn the ball over, you’re putting the team at risk. … The ball is gold.  And if we expect to win football games and to move forward, we are going to have to protect the football.”

Cameron said he and Flacco are still doing the same practice drills on protecting the football (having defenders and coaches swipe at the ball in the pocket) as in years past. But it’s difficult to simulate game conditions in practice, where quarterbacks don’t get hit.

“I think Joe’s got great pocket awareness,” Cameron said, adding that it’s a matter of keeping two hands on the ball but still remaining a passer.

“It’s just when you go against good defenses, teams that we go against that can get after it with pass rush, you’ve got to secure the football. The good news is he’s well aware of it and I know he’ll do everything he can to get it solved.”

The bad news is that Indianapolis defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are coming to town Sunday.

While they don’t have their usual forced fumble stats this year (Freeney has two and Mathis has one), each is capable of getting one at any point. They each have 5.5 sacks this year and Cameron called them “two of the better pass rushers and fumble causers in the history of the game.”

Freeney and Mathis have both averaged 4.5 forced fumbles per season over their careers. To put that in perspective, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has only once caused that many fumbles in a season, when he had six in 2003.

The Freeney-Mathis tandem is often successful using orchestration, Cameron pointed out. Watch for one to stunt up in the middle to force the quarterback to drift back while the other comes around and over the top to swipe at the ball.

“Maybe Flacco has a little more tendency to fumble, but it doesn’t change our thought process,” Freeney said. “It’s really just the way we’re programmed. It’s never just the sack; it’s the total package. It’s the forced fumble, the recovered fumble, trying to score a touchdown.”

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