Flacco finds deep-throw success in playoffs

Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco is 8-for-12 for 324 yards and no interceptions on throws of at least 20 yards in the playoffs.

With 41 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s AFC Divisional playoff game, Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens faced third-and-3 at the Baltimore 30-yard line.

According to ESPN Stats and Information’s win probability model, the Ravens had a 2.8 percent chance of winning the game. One 70-yard play later, Flacco and the Ravens had tied the Denver Broncos.

The play, a 50-yard throw that Jacoby Jones caught for a touchdown, was the latest example in this postseason of Flacco’s formidable arm strength.

Flacco is 8-of-12 for 324 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on throws at least 20 yards downfield in the playoffs. Flacco completed 37 percent of those attempts during the season with seven touchdowns.

Joe Flacco Passing 20+ Yards Downfield This Season

During the regular season only Calvin Johnson (39) had more targets on those throws than Torrey Smith (38), who rang up two touchdowns and 91 receiving yards on long throws against the Broncos.

That came a week after Indianapolis focused on stopping Smith, who was targeted just once. Flacco then turned to Anquan Boldin as a second deep option and the pair combined for 117 yards.

So how prepared is New England for slowing the Ravens’ vertical passing game? New England allowed 30 completions on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield this season, tied with the Giants for the most in the league. In a Week 3 loss to the Ravens, the Patriots allowed Flacco to connect on four of eight deep throws for 111 yards and a touchdown to Smith.

Flacco may have a tougher time Sunday, though, because New England has only one player in the same position from Week 3 in the secondary (Steve Gregory). Devin McCourty has moved from cornerback to safety in recent weeks, and neither Alfonzo Dennard nor Aqib Talib were on the active roster for that game.

Patriots Pass Defense 20+ Yds Downfield
This Season Including Playoffs

Since adding Talib to the lineup in Week 11 allowed McCourty to move to safety, the Patriots’ defense has looked a lot different. Only the Titans (zero) have allowed fewer 30-yard pass plays than the Patriots from Week 11 on.

Even when New England was susceptible to the deep ball early in the season, it showed a knack for forcing turnovers. The Patriots had seven interceptions on throws at least 20 yards downfield this season, with only Atlanta (eight) recording more.

Despite leading the league with 93 attempts at least 20 yards downfield this season including the playoffs, Flacco has not thrown an interception on such throws. Matt Hasselbeck is the only other qualified quarterback without an interception on a deep throw this season, and he had fewer than a quarter of Flacco’s attempts (24).

Flacco has a +10 touchdown-to-interception differential on deep throws -- Aaron Rodgers is the only other quarterback to even throw 10 touchdowns on such passes.