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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Flacco overthrows hurt Smith's deep impact

By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Info

The Ravens used the 58th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft to select speedster Torrey Smith from Maryland, hoping he would provide a vertical threat for Joe Flacco. In 2011, Smith was targeted once over his first two games, a 22-yard Flacco overthrow against the Steelers in the season opener.

While the Flacco overthrow remains a theme, it became clear against the St. Louis Rams in Smith's third game why he had warranted a second-round pick.

Smith caught five passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns against the Rams, and four of his eight targets were thrown at least 26 yards downfield. Smith would be targeted at least five times in 11 of Baltimore’s last 13 games, and he developed into Flacco’s favorite deep target.

It’s no secret how the Ravens use Smith.

His career average target distance is 18.6 yards downfield, more than a yard deeper than any other qualified receiver. No receiver has been targeted on more throws deeper than 20 yards downfield than Smith in the last two seasons, and Smith’s six touchdowns on deep throws is tied for fifth in the league.

Targeting Smith downfield has been a focus for Flacco since that breakout game in Smith’s rookie season, and Smith has proved reliable. Of his league-high 56 deep targets, Smith has dropped one.

But the Flacco-to-Smith connection hasn’t exactly progressed.

In Smith’s rookie season, Flacco completed nearly 54 percent of his passes targeting Smith, which ranked 67th out of 81 qualified wide receivers. While a lack of efficiency was expected given Smith’s role as a deep threat (average target was 18.2 yards downfield, second-most in NFL), 36 qualified receivers had a better drop percentage than Smith’s 3.2 percent.

This season, Smith has been targeted at about the same rate (7.0 targets per game compared to 6.2 targets last year), but the completion percentage is down (49.2 percent, fifth worst out of 79 qualified wide receivers). And Smith has dropped as many passes (three) as last year.

The silver lining?

He’s caught just as many touchdowns (seven) as last year and his 9.0 targets per touchdown is sixth in the league.

Smith’s big-play production out of the gates could be more impressive if not for Flacco.

Flacco has 52 overthrown passes deeper than 20 yards downfield in the past two seasons, 15 more than the next-closest quarterback (Cam Newton). In that span, Smith has been overthrown 26 times, seven more than the next-closest receiver (Larry Fitzgerald).

Flacco’s efficiency problems in Smith’s first season could be attributed to adjusting to a new and unfamiliar weapon.

Smith was clocked at 4.43 seconds at the combine before the 2011 Draft, and Flacco’s three most-targeted wide receivers in 2010 were Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin - none of whom had Smith’s speed.

But this year, Flacco has overthrown Smith on 27 percent of his total targets, with only the Blaine Gabbert-to-Justin Blackmon duo yielding a higher overthrow percentage.