With his two top targets gone, Joe Flacco becomes “the guy” in Baltimore

July 26, 2011 | Peter Dilutis

When Joe Flacco started week one of the 2008 season, his goal wasn’t to be the best player on the Ravens offense. His job wasn’t to be the most vocal guy in the huddle. His mission was not to go out there against Cincinnati on that September afternoon and win the game for the Ravens.

Much like one of his predecessors in Kyle Boller, Flacco’s main task wasn’t to win the game, but rather he was instructed not to lose the game.

You see, when Flacco showed up in Baltimore, the Ravens already had an all-pro tight end in Todd Heap who had been the Ravens leading receiver for much of his seven years in Baltimore. Derrick Mason had three years under his belt in Baltimore and had established himself as one of the best receivers to ever wear a Ravens uniform.

These were veteran guys who had done it before and who were leaders of the offense. Flacco looked up to those two guys, followed their leads, and successfully went about handling his business and role in the offense.

Derrick Mason became Flacco’s top target, often referred to as Joe’s “security blanket.” Mason caught 214 passes from Flacco over the past three seasons, which account for 24% of Joe’s completed passes since he’s been an NFL quarterback. Mason has been a constant, steady target for Flacco when the rest of the receiving core has been both unsteady and underwhelming.

Until Mason came along, Todd Heap was arguably the best receiver in the Ravens short history, putting up eye-opening receiving numbers as a tight end. Heap did not start out on a great note under Coach Harbaugh in 2008, but he came on strong the last two seasons, and he ended up catching 128 passes from Flacco over their three years together, accounting for 15% of Joe’s completed passes.

Together, Mason and Heap are responsible for 39% of Joe’s completed passes over his first three years in the NFL.

When the Ravens released both Mason and Heap today, I really wasn’t that surprised. They both had fairly high cap numbers, are getting up in age, and each would have been playing out their final years under contract.

After analyzing the financial ramifications of the cuts, my focus immediately turned to Joe Flacco and what this means for his immediate future and expected performance as a Raven in 2011.

People have been clamoring for the Ravens to open up the offense. Everyone has been calling radio stations or posting on message boards that Joe Flacco should have free reign to stretch the field and audible at will. Fans aren’t happy anymore with just a conservative Joe Flacco, even if he has done nothing but win the past three seasons in Baltimore. They want a great quarterback. Baltimore wants Joe Flacco to be the leader of the offense.