Biomechanical Review: Joe Flacco

In the biomechanical review of Gary Kubiak, we discussed how Kubiak designed a technical approach to playing QB that maximized vertical accuracy at some cost to horizontal throwing range (if you haven’t already, you can read it here).  This approach complements the systemic design of the Shanahan/ Kubiak offense, which schematically stretches defenses wide with the run game, while attacking defenses vertically with the pass (often from a half-field read off of a bootleg).  

From a biomechanical perspective, Joe Flacco is a perfect fit for this offense.  His strengths and weaknesses as a passer perfectly mirror the strengths and weaknesses inherent to the offense designed by Gary Kubiak and Mike Shanahan.  Where Kubiak designed techniques to borrow from posterior lateral areas to enhance vertical throwing accuracy, Flacco is naturally extremely efficient in his posterior lateral areas.  Where Shanahan designed an offense with simplified reads and limited horizontal throwing range, Flacco excels when he can avoid full-field reads and quick changes of horizontal direction (due to compromised anterior medial efficiency).  

Joe Flacco is a posterior dominant player, favoring his lateral areas (an overview of anterior vs posterior efficiency can be found here).  When he was younger, Flacco was very efficient in all thoracic areas (areas related to throwing)- he had a truly excellent arm. However, his anterior thoracic efficiency was always derived via borrowing (particularly from anterior lumbar areas), and as he aged, his overall anterior efficiency lessened substantially (ending with a medial anterior hip injury in 2018).  His last truly efficient campaign was in 2014- not coincidentally his last playoff win/ appearance. This was also his only season in the Shanahan/ Kubiak offense.

As Flacco’s anterior efficiency lessened, his play noticeably worsened.  Although he was never particularly mobile, Flacco became increasingly statuesque.   His ability to quickly pivot his throwing angle declined, and his accuracy became increasingly susceptible to being interrupted by pressure.  Never a particularly quick-reading/ quick-throwing QB, Flacco’s inability to deliver the ball on time became an anchor for recent Ravens offenses.  

In 2018, Flacco began borrowing even more heavily from anterior lumbar areas and he enjoyed an early-season renaissance.  However, this borrowing was particularly unsustainable, and Flacco’s season ended in injury and poor performance.

So what should we expect from Joe Flacco in 2019?  If Rich Scangarello’s work as Kyle Shanahan’s QB coach in 2017-2018 is predictive of his offensive leanings, it seems likely that Flacco will enjoy a career renaissance in Denver.

Although discussion to this point has centered on Gary Kubiak’s QB teachings/ offense, Kyle Shanahan (and Rich Scangarello) base their QB technique on many of the same principles.  This is far from a coincidence- Kyle Shanahan was Gary Kubiak’s QB coach with the Texans in 2007. Shanahan’s QBs, from Matt Ryan to Nick Mullens, consistently show the trademark Kubiak-style lateral-posterior borrowing in vertical throwing situations.  And the last few QBs to show this pattern were coached by the new offensive coordinator of the Broncos- Rich Scangarello. So it seems extremely likely that Scangarello learned his technical approach from Kyle Shanahan, who learned it directly from Gary Kubiak.  

Assuming Scangarello designs an offense around the strengths/ weaknesses of this approach, Flacco should excel.  Flacco’s high levels of lateral posterior efficiency means that he will enjoy excellent vertical accuracy in an offense designed around borrowing from these posterior areas (and it will cost him nothing, since his system is already based around these areas of efficiency).  Flacco’s weaknesses- poor horizontal quickness/ throwing range/ field-reading- are minimized substantially by the Shanahan/ Kubiak offense’s tendencies toward half-field reads and vertical throwing. Flacco will enjoy all the strengths of the Kubiak approach, while the offensive system will work to mitigate his physical weaknesses.  

Kubiak’s techniques are not a fit for every QB.  For QBs who are already very efficient in all thoracic areas (particularly those who are medial-anterior-dominant, and who naturally borrow from medial-posterior-cervical areas), the Kubiak approach can actually be a detriment. Peyton Manning and Jimmy Garoppolo are two QBs who have seen their play worsen by adopting these techniques.  

However, for QBs who fit the correct profile, the Kubiak approach to playing QB can greatly enhance performance, particularly in an offense tailored to its strengths and weaknesses.  Assuming that Rich Scangarello designs such an offense, Joe Flacco may perform beyond expectations.