The question of whether Flacco is ready to become an elite quarterback has been asked so often this offseason that it’s become nauseating to discuss. The fifth-year signal-caller has done everything asked of him in his first four seasons and was a Lee Evans touchdown catch away from leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl in the final drive in New England last season.
That being said, the Ravens will ask more of Flacco this season and the quarterback looked terrific throughout training camp and posted a 101.6 quarterback rating during preseason action. That doesn’t mean Flacco is guaranteed to take a quantum leap by any stretch, but the increased use of the no-huddle is undoubtedly a sign of more responsibility falling on his shoulders to read defenses and make more plays in the passing game.
Flacco still lacks a big wide receiver to target in the red zone and needs to improve reading the middle of the field, but the speed of Torrey Smith and Jones on the outside coupled with a healthy veteran Anquan Boldin working from the slot will offer more diversity than the Ravens have had in the passing game in a long time. The Baltimore quarterback loves targeting tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta as well, but both are coming off lengthy absences after preseason injuries, which means there could be a slight readjustment period to begin the season.
With the defense likely regressing this season due to the Suggs injury and other free-agent losses, Flacco needs to take the next step toward becoming a great quarterback if the Ravens are to remain strong contenders this year. Becoming a top-10 offense should be a realistic goal after the unit was ranked 15th in total yards and 12th in points per game in 2011.
We’ve seen Flacco’s confidence grow as the years have progressed and he is much better than his detractors would like to admit, but the Ravens hope his success in the AFC championship game propels him to bigger and better things in 2012. His first 4,000-yard season should be within reach, but numbers only tell so much in measuring the success of a quarterback.
Flacco has made no secret in sharing his enthusiasm for running the no-huddle offense, but with that comes greater responsibility and expectations to produce more consistent numbers from week to week. The addition of quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell has been a major asset in tweaking the Ravens’ version of the offense as you can observe more gesturing and gamesmanship at the line of scrimmage from Flacco than we’ve seen in the past.
If the Ravens are to match their 12-win totals in each of the past two regular seasons and get back to the AFC championship game — or beyond — Flacco will have to do more than he’s ever been asked to do in his already-successful NFL career.