Where he’s hot, and not: Joe Flacco’s best and worst areas of the field

Joe Flacco. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports.
Joe Flacco. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports.

Like it or not, Joe Flacco is the Broncos quarterback in 2019.

Broncos fans, and likely the front office too, are hoping Flacco is a better gun-slinger than Case Keenum was in his one-year shot behind center in the Mile High City. And, we’re here to tell you, Flacco will be better than Keenum when looking at certain throws. Specifically, the Broncos new quarterback is more versatile than the former one.

Using the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, we can see where Flacco excelled and struggled in 2018, here:

Joe Flacco's passer rating compared to NFL average in 2018. Credit: NFL's Next Gen Stats.
Joe Flacco’s passer rating compared to NFL average in 2018. Credit: NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

When looking at his chart from last year, a few things jump out. First, Flacco is very good throwing the ball to this right, except for that 10-20 yard area, weirdly. Second, outside of that same area, Flacco is quite efficient from the line of scrimmage to 20 yards, which are the majority of throws a quarterback is asked to make. And finally, when he wants to attack deep Flacco is the best outside of the right hash marks, enjoying an 88.0 passer rating with plus-20 yard throws there.

Interestingly, that was Keenum’s favorite area to throw deep, too, with a crazy-good 130.4 rating last season. However, the rest of Flacco’s plus-20 yard throws were better than Keenum’s, as evidenced by the passer ratings (left: 56.8-28.8, between the hashmarks: 39.6-17.5). And, Flacco’s four “red” areas below the league average were less than Keenum’s six such areas, making Flacco more versatile.

What can we ascertain from the chart above in terms of what the Broncos will likely do this year?

Flacco’s bread and butter is in that 0-10 yard range, in the middle and right side of the field especially, so expect to see slants, quick outs, screens and bubble screens there. When Denver runs a bit deeper routes, like corners and deep outs, they’ll likely want Flacco to throw to his left. And deep balls will most often come on the right side of the field, though, he’s not terrible on the left side, either.

Two more Next Gen Stats Broncos fans should like about Joe Flacco: Aggressiveness percentage and expected completion percentage.

Aggressiveness percentage rates how much of the time a quarterback throws into tight windows, with the defender within one yard of the receiver. Flacco’s was 17.2 last year, making him more aggressive than Keenum was (16 percent). Being aggressive isn’t always smart — forcing throws could result in more interceptions — but aggressiveness at the right time is important. Here’s hoping Flacco uses his breadth of knowledge and experience to pull the trigger on tight throws at the right times in 2019.

Last year, Flacco’s 61.2 completion percentage was his worst in five years and 30th in the NFL. But, his expected completion percentage was 64.1. Next Gen Stats uses completion probability, which factors in how open the receiver is, how close the nearest defender is to the QB and more, and then plugs that into every passing play. Simply, Flacco was making more accurate throws than his completion percentage shows, and his receivers were dropping the ball.

To wit, Michael Crabtree’s nine drops were third-most in the NFL while John Brown dropped six passes and Willie Snead had five drops.

So, Courtland Sutton (seven drops last year), Emmanuel Sanders — if he’s retained — and DaeSean Hamilton have to bring their collective A-game every week next year to help Flacco thrive. Of course, much hope also rests on the shoulders of new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and that he can design an offense which benefits not only Flacco’s playing style, but all of the Broncos offensive personnel.

Will Flacco be better than Keenum? The simple stats say “no” but the Next Gen Stats say otherwise.