Joe Flacco in vintage form with Browns, and Kevin Stefanski deserves plenty of praise for veteran’s success

Joe Flacco joined the Browns in Cleveland right before Thanksgiving, and before Christmas, he threw for 212 yards in the fourth quarter of a single game, a total not reached in franchise history in the last 45 years. And Flacco did it in Cleveland’s roaring comeback win over the Chicago Bears to stay in the No. 5 spot in the AFC playoff picture. 

Flacco is now 2-1 as Cleveland’s starter, but we all know, wins and losses aren’t typically a quarterback stat. However, Flacco isn’t a shell of his former self. He’s gone over 300 yards in back-to-back victories, and his 374 yards against a stingy Bears defense is his highest single-game passing yard total since 2016 (!). 

It’s officially time to ask: How in the world is Flacco doing this at 38 years old?

Believe it or not, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski is not a Kyle Shanahan disciple, as it seems like just about every successful offensive coordinator in the NFL today is. But he is a Mike Shanahan disciple in a way. Previously a “lifer” with the Vikings, Stefanski’s mentor was Gary Kubiak, who was famously aligned with Kyle’s dad, dating all the way back to 1994 with the 49ers and was Mike’s offensive coordinator with the Broncos during the late stages of the Elway era from 1995 and through the early portions of the early 2000s. 

Flacco has been operating Stefanski’s spin on the Shanahan offense, which generally features a zone-blocking scheme run game, bootlegs and heavy play-action usage to keep defenses guessing — is it a run or a pass? Through three games in Cleveland, Flacco’s play-action dropback rate is 29.2%, which if he had enough attempts to qualify, would rank fifth in the entire NFL. 

player headshot

On those dropbacks, Flacco’s been spectacularly efficient from a yardage perspective with a robust 12.2 yards-per-attempt average, five touchdowns, two interceptions and a 125.8 quarterback rating. 

This is the Shanahan (see: Stefanski) offense — run left, run right, play-action deep shot on a play that looks like run right at immediately after the snap. 

Check the game-tying Amari Cooper touchdown in fourth quarter, which was the perfect encapsulation of the fitting marriage between Stefanski and Flacco. 

Play-action with the run fake to the left. Pulling guard in the opposite direction. Half roll right. Deep clearing route down the right sideline. Then a Flacco rocket on a deep over route through a narrowing window that featured three Bears defenders. A broken tackle later, and Cooper zoomed into the end zone. 

Venturing a guess here — P.J. Walker or Dorian Thompson-Robinson probably don’t have the gall to make that throw. Watch it again. Flacco decided to let it rip the split-second after Cooper cleared linebacker Tremaine Edmunds across the field. 

With Walker and Thompson-Robinson, Stefanski had to drastically alter his offensive philosophy. With Flacco, who still boasts quite the explosive arm as he nears 39 years old, the Browns head coach and play-caller has reverted back to what he truly wants to do offensively: Run the ball, utilize play-action and send long balls down the field. 

Even as Flacco started 3 of 14 for 94 yards with a touchdown and a pick in his first two games on deep shots, Stefanski had essentially no choice but to continue to trust the wily, Super Bowl-winning quarterback and his arm. 

Against Chicago, Flacco was 3 of 5 for 151 yards with that Cooper touchdown on deep shots. On play-action? Flacco rocked — he completed 8 of 12 for 193 yards. That equates to a 16.1 yards-per-attempt average, which was the highest among all quarterbacks through Sunday’s action in Week 15. 

As a football writer in the Year 2023, anytime I write about the Browns, I promise to praise the Browns’ offensive line. Because for as long as the injury list has been in Cleveland this season, the blocking unit is intact. And still destroying the will of opposing defensive lines. 

Flacco was actually pressured on just over 39% of his dropbacks against the Bears. In his first two starts, Flacco’s pressure rate was 28.2%. That’s minuscule. For Flacco, being eased back into NFL action without getting barraged by opponents’ pass rushes has been huge, especially for his confidence to be capable of settling into a new team.

Stefanski and the Browns have aided in Flacco doing this now in his 16th NFL season by created a very familiar environment for the experienced passer. Stingy defense coupled with greenlighting play-action moon shots is what Flacco knows in the NFL. And he’s playing like he’s 28-year-old Flacco as an AFC North quarterback.

He’s just switched helmet colors from black and purple to orange and brown. 

Joe Flacco, the quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, has been performing exceptionally well in recent games. In a game against the Chicago Bears, Flacco threw for 212 yards in the fourth quarter, a feat that hasn’t been achieved by the Browns in 45 years. This helped the Browns secure a comeback win and maintain their position in the AFC playoff picture. Flacco has a record of 2-1 as the Browns’ starter and has been consistently throwing for over 300 yards in back-to-back victories. His performance against the Bears, with 374 passing yards, was his highest single-game total since 2016. The Browns’ offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski, has implemented a spin on the Shanahan offense, which focuses on a zone-blocking run game, bootlegs, and play-action passes. Flacco has excelled in this system, with a high play-action dropback rate and impressive efficiency on those plays. The Browns’ offensive line has also played a significant role in Flacco’s success, providing him with strong protection against opposing defenses. Overall, Flacco’s performance at 38 years old has been remarkable, and he is thriving in the Browns’ offensive system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *