Is The Heat Getting To Joe Cool?

July 15, 2012 | Trevin Jaggars

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is entering his fifth season as an NFL starter.  For the four years that Flacco has been under center, the Ravens have reached the playoffs each time, winning 44 regular season games. Though they have never made the Super Bowl with Flacco at the helm, he has led them to the AFC Championship game twice.

In his four seasons, Joe has started every regular season game and nine postseason games. That’s 73 total games, which ranks him third among active quarterbacks.

He is entering the final year of his rookie contract and the Ravens have vowed to get him a new deal during the offseason. Negotiations, however, have hindered following Joe’s comments about being the league’s best quarterback and worthy of top-5 quarterback money.  He’s not the NFL’s best quarterback, but he has shown he can win games while remaining durable; so expect a deal to get done.

The question still remains whether Flacco is good enough to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Baltimore.  Even with the significant amount of wins the Ravens have enjoyed with him as a starter, he still has taken heaps of criticism.  Many of the critics question his lack of consistency, an assessment that even the most loyal Raven fan can agree on.  Despite this doubt, there is no reason that Flacco can’t utilize his weapons to win a ring and prove his haters wrong.

The Ravens boast one of the strongest run games in the league and have repeatedly fielded one of the most fearsome defenses.  With those two forces combined, Ravens Nation tends to hope Flacco doesn’t lose the game, rather than rooting for him to win it.

This quarterback driven league tends to focus on the elite, game-changing quarterback.  There’s nothing wrong with being a game-managing quarterback like Flacco, but look for him to step up into a more prominent role within the Ravens offense.

Given the additions to the receiving core and a full offseason to work with the them, indications are that Joe can step into a more game-changing role.  Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are the two key returning pieces to the outside passing game.  Boldin led the team in receiving yards last year (887), while Smith led in touchdowns with seven.

Along with Smith, Jacoby Jones is another speedster who will help the Ravens stretch the field to use Flacco’s strong arm.  Second year players Tandon Doss and Laquan Williams, injury plagued David Reed, and rookie Tommy Streeter will look to earn a spot in the Ravens pass game.

In addition to the receivers, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are two young tight ends the Ravens drafted in 2010.  Dickson started every game last season and finished with 54 catches, 528 yards and five touchdowns.  Pitta served as the backup catching 40 balls for 405 yards and three touchdowns.  Dickson has the tendency to mentally remove himself from a game due to dropping a pass, but these two tight ends will be a big part of the Ravens in 2012.

The most important weapon for Flacco has been running back Ray Rice.  Rice makes defenses respect the Ravens run game, putting more defenders in the box and creating more downfield pass opportunities.  This Rutgers product ran for 1364 yards last year, scoring 12 touchdowns.  He also is a threat catching a pass out of the backfield, leading the team in catches (76), for 704 yards.  Rice has been a good outlet for Flacco to check down to (which is one reason critics question Flacco’s ability, these catch and runs inflate passing numbers).

Former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell signed with the Ravens as quarterbacks coach. He was responsible for Peyton Manning’s development and is respected as one of the better quarterback coaches in the league.  Not saying he will transform Joe to Peyton, but any part of Manning’s game that could be transferred to Flacco would certainly be useful.

The worry is that Flacco’s production has hit a plateau. Though his numbers dipped in some areas last season, they are, on the whole, pretty much unchanged from where they’ve been throughout his career.  There has been no considerable amount of improvement in his numbers.

So has the Ravens success in recent years been solely a result of excellent defense and a solid run game?  Take a look at Joe Flacco’s Statistics over his four year NFL career.

Joe doesn’t need to make all that much of an improvement this season for the Ravens to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. The Ravens can certainly win a Super Bowl with Flacco under center, they just don’t need him to be the reason why.  Just as the saying “defense wins championships” proclaims, a dominating defense accompanied by a solid run game and constant quarterback play are the ingredients needed to win it all; a dish the Ravens can certainly serve.

2012 Bold Prediction: Joe Flacco will have the biggest season of his career, one that does more help than harm, one that places him outside the “game-manager” quarterbacks.  He will lead the Ravens to their first Super Bowl appearance since they won Super Bowl XXXV.

2012 Predicted Stats: 336 for 513 – 4125 Yards – 32 TD – 9 INT

“I assume everybody thinks they’re a top-five quarterback, I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’m top five, I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’d be very successful at my job if I didn’t feel that way. I mean, c’mon?!”

             -Joe Flacco