Joe Flacco, A Tale of Two Quarterbacks
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. It was in the end– a championship season (I added the last part).
While this may be a bit dramatic (and not Edgar Allen Poe) when describing Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco and his play at times, the first paragraph and title of the great Charles Dickens literary masterpiece, A Tale Of Two Cities, is a perfect correlation when trying to write an article about a quarterback that plays like one of the best signal callers in the game one week–and one of the worst in other weeks.
I could have used the classic Clint Eastwood western, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but after last year’s playoff run, the movie would have to add “The Great” to its title and I do not see that happening.
Entering his sixth season, Ravens QB Joe Flacco is an enigma, which the Webster’s dictionary describes as something hard to understand or explain. While Flacco the man seems to be a nice, calm, cool and laid back individual, who doesn’t seem hard to figure out—his play on the field at times is anything but. Baltimore fans have seen the Ravens signal caller produce games, or as we saw during the playoffs last season, stretches of games, which make you, believe he is what he covets most to be in the NFL– an “elite” franchise quarterback.
On the other hand, he can produce games that make you believe he may never be better than an average NFL quarterback–possibly no more than a Mark Sanchez on a much better team. Maybe that is exaggerating the stance a bit but you get the point when it comes to the Super Bowl XLVII MVP.
Trying to figure out exactly what you can expect from Flacco when he takes the field on Thursday night in Denver can be exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time for Ravens fans. What frustrates Ravens fans more than anything is knowing that he is capable of being a quarterback that can compete at an elite level each week.
As we saw during the all-important third preseason game vs. Carolina, two weeks back, Flacco can be great, as he was during the Ravens nine play drive to start the game. He was 5-5 and led the team straight down the field and into the endzone.Or, you will want to boo him and the offenses performance, which eventually happened, as Flacco threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, as he looked out of sync and took three sacks.
HE’S DUARBALE AND HE WINS:
Ravens fans love the Joe Flacco that has played in every game since being drafted by the Ravens in 2008. His 93 NFL starts (including the playoffs) are the most to begin a career by a QB in NFL history and the 63 wins (including playoffs) he’s produced are the most by an NFL starting QB during that span.
While Flacco’s consistently inconsistent play drives Ravens fans crazy at times during the regular season, his play in the postseason is what elevates his status, as a possible elite NFL talent. Flacco and the Ravens are 9-4 in January and now February during his tenure. He is the only starting QB in NFL history (since the 1970 merger) to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons (2008-12) and his nine wins tie New England’s Tom Brady for the most playoff victories (9) in a QB’s first five seasons.
Flacco played the position at a historical level for the Ravens three playoff games and the Super Bowl last season. He was masterful, passing for 1,140 yards, 11 TDs and 0 INTs to produce a 117.2 passer rating. In the process, Flacco joined another Joe– Hall of Fame QB Joe Montana (1989), as the only players to produce 11 TDs and 0 INTs during an NFL postseason.
Flacco seemed to temporarily silence the critics that refused to recognize him as one of the NFL’s elite passers; a title Flacco may chase the rest of his career if he does not play more consistently during the 16-game regular season. Many would argue that winning is all that matters and while that may be true, the time has come in Baltimore when Joe Flacco is going to be held far more responsible for what happens on the field and on the scoreboard. No longer will a so-so performance from him be consistently bailed out by a defense led by two future Hall of Famers.
If you do not want to call Joe Flacco “elite”, you at least have to call him a winner. His playoff numbers say you have to call him clutch and last season’s playoff performance, which culminated with a win in New Orleans means you, must also call him a Super Bowl MVP winning QB, which you cannot call Dan Marino, Fran Tarkington and Jim Kelly. And while I understand that Trent Dilfer also won a Super Bowl as the Ravens QB, you don’t think of Dilfer when you recall SB XXXV but Flacco sits right at the forefront of your memory, when recalling last February’s big game.
Yes, there is an argument to be made that the Ravens defense carried this team through many of those nine playoff victories since Flacco took over in 08. During the Ravens 2009 Wild Card trouncing of the Patriots, he threw for just 34 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. But it is fair to say that maybe Joe has progressed as quarterbacks used to in the league—before rookie QB’s stepped in and became football Demigods. If Joe had sat the first two years behind a veteran QB, last year would have been his third as signal caller.
It is entirely possible that last February was a culmination of all the trial and error Flacco has endured throughout his brief five-year career. Maybe, just maybe, it all came together and he finally learned how to play the position as the elites do in this league.
You cannot blame Flacco for the fact that his defense has been elite. He just happened to be in a fortunate situation that allowed him to make mistakes and learn from them because his defense could bail him out. I will bet Tom Brady wishes he had a defense that could have stepped up a little bit more during the past four seasons. If the Patriots had any type of defense it is likely, Brady would have a ring for every finger on his hand.
You may be able to say Flacco has been the beneficiary of great playoff defenses at times but not last season including the postseason. The Ravens defense fell out of the top 10 last year (17th) and it was the big play of the Ravens offense and Flacco’s arm that bailed the team out on many occasions. The problem is, despite his performance in the playoffs last season, prognosticators, analysts and even Ravens fans are not convinced that he can deliver solid performances like those in the playoffs on a consistent basis during the regular season.
A TALE OF TWO WEEKS:
As an NFL QB, many believe they have yet to see Flacco hit his ceiling and just as many believe, he may never hit that ceiling. Ravens fans hope they have seen the floor. Despite losing just 26 regular season games in five years, Flacco’s consistency remains a huge question mark entering the 2013 season. These fears and opinions are not just unfair assessments; Flacco deserves the skepticism and the criticism at times.
There were still too many times last season when he appeared to be lost and slow footed, making bad reads, bad throws and audibled to the wrong play. With only a little over two dozen losses to look back on, it is easy to remember the ones where Flacco was the difference between a win and a loss. I can point out a few games with the Steelers when Flacco was a big contributor to the Ravens blowing a lead and the game. But then again there are the two games at Heinz Field in which Flacco led the Ravens on game winning drives to steal victories against their hated rivals.
Debating Joe Flacco can simply be maddening. Inconsistencies in his game can be pointed out, as easy as comparing his career performances during the first two games of the season. During his career, the Ravens are 5-0 with Flacco under center in Week 1. He has been solid in those games averaging 241 passing yards with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. His passer rating is 93.5, which is seven points better than his career rating of 86.3.
Week 2 has been an entirely different story for both Flacco and the Ravens. Although it did not start that way, as Flacco began his career with two straight 2-0 starts– but since beating the Chargers in Week 2 of the 2009 season, the Ravens have yet to win the second game of the season. With Flacco under center, the Ravens are 2-3 in Week 2, as Joe Cool has been flat out cold—ice cold. His touchdown to interception ratio is doubled in the wrong direction (5 TD’s-10 INT’s) and he has averaged just 180.4 passing yards in these games. Just once has he thrown for over 200 yards during the second week of the season and his passer rating is a staggering 57.2. This is the type of inconsistency that epitomizes his career. It is weeks such as these that keep the so called experts from proclaiming Flacco the elite QB he and many others, thinks he is at this point.
It is also fair to point out that he has never passed for more than 4,000 yards, he’s never thrown for more than 25 TD’s and he’s never been to the Pro Bowl—not even as an alternate. Flacco has shown the ability to play elite but being elite requires consistency and so far, Joe Flacco lacks it.
FAR MORE GOOD THAN BAD FROM FLACCO:
There are more positives to point towards than the negatives when talking about Joe Flacco. He wins on the road more than any QB in the league. Since 2008, Flacco has produced an NFL-high 27 total road wins (including playoffs). The two guys that are second, are generally considered “elite” amongst NFL signal callers, as only Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers trail Flacco with 24 road wins during that span.
With Ray Lewis retired, Flacco enters the 2013 season, as the team’s leader. The torch was passed. Comfortable or not in that role, Flacco must find a way to embrace what he has now become to his team and to the city of Baltimore. As Flacco and the Ravens get set to defend their Super Bowl title, expectations are mixed for the team but high for Flacco. The task to return to the playoffs for an NFL high sixth straight season will not be easy. No other defending Super Bowl Champion has endured as much turnover as the Ravens produced this past offseason. In all, nine contributing starters that were on the field in New Orleans are playing elsewhere this season or have retired.
Originally selected by the Ravens in the first round (18th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft, Flacco became just the second NCAA Division I FCS (formerly I-AA) QB ever selected in the first round and the first since QB Steve McNair (Alcorn State) was the third-overall pick by Houston in 1995. Unlike Andrew Luck or RG3, who were expected to start from day one, Flacco was forced to start from the time he was drafted when injuries and illness sidelined Ravens quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Troy Smith during the 2008 preseason.
CONFIDENT IN HIS ABILITIES OR JUST LUCKY?
After playing out his original contract and refusing to take less money during the 2012 offseason and re-sign a year early, Flacco opted to wait until this past off-season. When you consider that Flacco had to produce and stay healthy at a position, when doing both at the same time is not easy, his decision will one day be regarded, as one of the biggest and boldest moves by a pending free agent in sports history. Failing to do just one could have cost him millions of dollars, as Joe Cool could have become Joe Fool. Instead, he did what the Ravens hoped he would and played like Joe Montana in the playoffs.
Many said the Ravens were lucky in the playoffs—perhaps—but they were just as unlucky the year before—what goes around comes around and not always in a bad way. The Ravens became the first SB champion to lose four of their final five games to end the season. Flacco was terrible during a Week 16 game vs. Denver in which the Ravens lost by 17 points at home, as he completed just 50 percent of his passes and tossed a pick six before the half that turned the tide of the game. Flacco and company certainly gave no indication in December that they were the team to beat in January.
Something clicked on the Ravens once the season ended. Maybe it was the whole Ray Lewis “One last ride” retirement theme but starting with a home win over the Colts in the Wild Card round and during the rematch with Denver in the playoffs, Flacco was brilliant and that is the only way to describe his play. There was no luck involved.
The pass Flacco made to Jacoby Jones in the AFC Divisional game to tie the score in Denver with less than a minute to play traveled almost 70-yards in the air. For as lucky as the Ravens may have been in how Broncos safety Rahim Moore misplayed the situation, there was no luck in the throw Flacco made. That was not a “Hail Mary” jump ball pass to Jones. There are not many QB’s, if any, in the NFL–that could have thrown the ball the distance with the accuracy in the weather conditions (-10 degrees with a wind chill) that Flacco did.
Because of his play in January and February–in March, the Ravens had no choice but to pay him– and pay him they did. The Ravens made Flacco the highest paid player in NFL history (at the time) by re-signing him to a six year, $120.6 million contract.
NO EXCUSES NOW:
It is now up to Flacco but he will have to do it without a few of the guys that made him look good on many occasions the past few seasons. He does not have two of his top targets from last season in Anquan Boldin (traded to SF) and Dennis Pitta, who could still return this season but was feared lost for the year with a hip injury. The only receiver that has shown he is a bonafide starter throughout training camp was third year wideout Torrey Smith– and honestly– Smith would likely be a No.2 on some NFL rosters.
The second listed wideout on the Ravens depth chart, Jacoby Jones, showed why the Houston Texans gave up on making him their No.2 WR two years ago, as he has dropped passes and was the target on two of Flacco’s four interceptions during the preseason. Jones, who spent the offseason dancing with stars, is not playing like the budding star the Ravens thought he was on his way to becoming.
The Ravens brought in Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark, two of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets throughout his days with the Colts. Stokley was in Denver with Manning last year. The Ravens do have a nice mix of veteran receivers to go along with their youth. They also kept two rookies in Marlon Brown and Aaron Mellette. Both had big preseasons, finished first, and second respectively in yards and both had two nice touchdown catches apiece.
With great money comes great responsibility and like it or not, Flacco needs to understand that the time has come for him to make marginal receivers good ones and possibly good receivers like Torrey Smith—great. We have watched through the years as Peyton Manning has turned average pass catchers such as, Anthony Gonzalez, Austin Collie, Donald Brown and Pierre Garcon into viable fantasy football options on some Sundays. I bet Tom Brady will do it this season, as he enters the 2013 campaign without his top five receivers from last year.
FAIR TO COMPARE?
Many would say that it is not fair to compare to Flacco to Manning or Brady. Isn’t it? You cannot have it both ways Ravens fans. You can’t say that Flacco is elite and then not compare his play to those who have sustained playing the position at an elite level. He makes their money and outplayed both last year in the playoffs in their stadiums. In each of the past four seasons (2009-12), only Flacco and the for sure “elite” Aaron Rodgers have thrown for at least 3,600 yards and 20 TDs while posting 12 INTs or less. I don’t think Ravens fans expect Flacco to be Rogers or Drew Brees but they expect him to take another step towards them.
After all, this is the NFL in 2013 and passing for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns is starting to become a thing of regularity for signal callers making Flacco’s money. Get used to hearing money and Flacco’s name in the same sentence. He’s married to the contract he earned and will be reminded of it when he throws a touchdown because that’s what he’s paid to do and he will also be reminded of it when he throws an interception because then, the Ravens way overpaid him. Playing QB in the NFL is a blessing and a curse at times. The QB never deserves all of the credit and they never deserve all of the blame but when you make $20 million per season, you get a lot of more of both.
If the final six games (including playoffs) of the 2012 season are any indication of how Flacco is going to play in 2013, the Ravens should be just fine. Under then new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who replaced the fired Cam Cameron following the Ravens Week 14 loss to the Redskins, Flacco was 102-of-170 for 1,483 yards, 13 TDs and 0 INTs with a 113.9 QB rating.
Caldwell was with Peyton Manning as his QB coach when Manning won three of his four MVP awards. In all, 2012 was a successful season for Flacco. He set a single-season career high in passing yards, breaking his previous record of 3,622 from 2010. Flacco compiled 3,817 yards, 22 TDs and 10 INTs on 317-of-531 passing. He also connected on 40 completions of 25-or-more yards, setting a Ravens’ single-season record.
CAN FLACCO HAVE ANOTHER CAREER YEAR?
Those numbers are good but they must be better in 2013. In fact, it is likely that in order for the Ravens to reach the playoffs, Flacco will need to have a career year in passing yards and touchdown passes.
When the Ravens win, Flacco is money. In his 54 regular season wins, which is second most by a starting QB since the 08 season, he has passed for 12,406 yards, 72 TDs and 20 INTs and completed 62.5 percent of his passes, which is good for a 96.3 passer rating. Baltimore is 33-4 when Flacco produces at least a 95 rating and 18-2 when he’s 110.0 or better.
Flacco will have bad games but he cannot produce games like those that he did in Houston last season, where he produced the worst performance by a quarterback in five seasons, based on ESPN’s quarterback rating system. Flacco was 21-of-43 (48.8 percent) for 147 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, (one was deflected and returned 52 yards for a touchdown). He was also sacked four times, one of which resulted in a safety and the Ravens were beaten by 30-points.
Flacco’s Total QBR, a metric that accounts for everything quarterbacks do, was 0.3 on the 0-100 scale, the lowest rating for any quarterback with at least 30 action plays since 2008. He had never posted a Total QBR under 5.0 in his career and had not recorded a game of 10.0 or worse since Week 2 of 2010 (at Cincinnati).
This is Joe Flacco’s team and it does not matter if he is elite. He has already proven he does not need to be elite to win. Franchise QB’s must make others them better. This will be a tall order for Flacco, as he tries to lead his team like never before instead of nevermore. Mistakes will happen, they are part of the game but they cannot linger and he cannot sulk. He must make players like TE Ed Dickson, WR’s Jacoby Jones, Aaron Mellette, and Marlon Brown, matter as viable fantasy football options on some Sunday’s. At the very least, he must make opposing defenses defend with honesty every Ravens receiver hard on every play. Flacco must make teams pay for their mistakes consistently (there’s that word again) instead of letting them off the hook, as he has done so often on third down.
I hope that 2013 will be the best of times for Joe Flacco and Ravens fans. After all, had it not been for a missed kick or a dropped pass, the Ravens could very well be looking to three-peat as Super Bowl Champs. Whatever happens, Joe Flacco must (and haven’t we heard this before) build on his late season success and play like the confident Super Bowl MVP we saw last February.
The last five Super Bowl MVP winning QB’s, spanning six Super Bowls (Eli Manning twice) averaged 4,160 passing yards and 31 touchdowns the following season. Every one of them passed for yards and touchdowns that would exceed Flacco’s career mark to this point. If Flacco can follow in that mold, it is likely the Ravens will be at or near the top of the AFC for a sixth straight season.
Then– the only question left to answer would be–“To be or not to be” elite and that is a very different historical piece of literary work and I have never been a big fan of Shakespeare anyway.