Joe Flacco is entering his fifth season as an NFL starter with a lot of uncertainty. This is the final year of his rookie deal and the Baltimore Ravens have pledged to get him a new deal during the offseason. Negotiations, however, seemed to have stalled especially after Flacco's agent made controversial statements that Flacco is worth top-5 quarterback money.
Despite the lack of progress made on the negotiations front, there is no reason to be concerned about Flacco going anywhere. He has most of the franchise records and the team has made the playoffs all four years that he's started. So in all likelihood Flacco will be back and he will be starting for the Ravens for a long time.
The question still remains, though, whether Flacco is good enough to win the Ravens a Super Bowl and deliver on the elite promise that he has. Even with the remarkable amount of success the Ravens have enjoyed with him as a starter, he has taken tons of criticism. A lot of this is because of his inconsistent level of play that even his staunchest fans can't deny.
Yet despite all the doubt and criticism surrounding Flacco, there is every reason to believe that he can turn things around and prove his haters wrong. He is only entering the prime of his career and has all the skills needed to become a Super Bowl winning quarterback.
Here are my reasons why Flacco will silence his critics this season.
In his four seasons as a starter, Joe Flacco has won 44 regular season games. Now this is one of those stats where credit also has to be given to the entire team, particularly the defense and the running game since quarterbacks are not the only factor that decides the outcome of games. But still, it's worth something that Flacco's 44 wins are the most of any quarterback's first four years in NFL history.
Going beyond the regular season victories statistic is his postseason success. Although his numbers and quarterback rating have often been dreadful, he has won five playoff games and at least one every postseason. Adding to the impressiveness of this statistic is the fact that four of the five were road games.
One of the reasons Flacco and the Ravens win so much is because of the team mentality brought in by John Harbaugh. And since the Ravens are so stacked in a lot of positions, they can and often do win when Flacco isn't playing his best football. With no major changes on the horizon in 2012, there's no reason to believe that this trend will end anytime soon.
One of the most common criticisms of Joe Flacco is that he doesn't show enough emotion. He is the quarterback of the team so by definition he is supposed to be the leader of the team. Yet he can come across as a little awkward and a little quiet for the team's supposed leader.
I actually believe that Flacco's lack of emotion on the field can be a good thing. Regardless of success or failure, he stays calm and has a humble outlook about his career. Yet he's also confident in his ability, which is what keeps him going despite the immense amount of criticism the media gives him.
The knocks against Flacco's leadership simply aren't valid, seeing as he has been one of the few constants on a offense that has recently gone through a lot of change. While Ray Lewis is the undisputed leader of the defense, it's definitely Flacco on the offense. His quiet confidence and ability to stay calm plays into the mentality of playing like a Raven.
Both free agency and the draft haven't happened yet, meaning that there could be some changes among the Ravens wide receivers. But it seems that regardless of how it shakes out Joe Flacco will have the best receivers of his four-year career.
It looks like the Ravens struck gold with Torrey Smith in the second round of last year's draft. He is not only the deep threat they desperately needed but is also turning into a reliable every-down receiver. For now he looks to be a great complement to Anquan Boldin, who is past 30 and is mostly best used as a slot receiver.
I still feel like the Ravens would benefit greatly from having a great third receiver. It's doubtful that the disappointing Lee Evans will be able to become this person, although chances still remain for both Tandon Doss and David Reed to prove their worth. Hopefully the Ravens can address this position in the draft by picking someone in the early rounds that could hopefully grow into a starting role.
A look at Joe Flacco's statistics over the years shows mostly improvement. It's not all upwards but for the most part it does seem as though he is improving with age. The 2011 season was a good one although not as good as his best season a year earlier.
There were a lot of similarities in 2010 and 2011 as Flacco threw 25 touchdowns in the former and 20 touchdowns in the latter. His interception numbers were about the same with 10 in 2010 and 12 in 2011. He also had similar fumble numbers with only nine in 2010 and 11 in 2011.
In the area of yardage, Flacco has been remarkably consistent throwing for around 3,600 yards each of the last three seasons. His quarterback rating has also stayed consistently around 80 except for 2010 when it was an uncharacteristically high 93.6. In 2011 there was one disturbing trend as Flacco's completion percentage dropped all the way to a career low 57.6.
It's difficult explaining why exactly Flacco struggled in 2011. Part of it had to do with the offense's uncertainty as they struggled balancing the passing game and the running game. Another thing that must be considered is all four of the Ravens regular season losses came to teams that had way worse records than they have and Flacco like most of his other teammates, struggled in those games.
But considering that his numbers weren't all that bad in 2011, there's reason to believe that Flacco will be able to continue his progression next season.
In all four of Joe Flacco's seasons, he has started every regular season game and nine postseason games. That's 73 total games which places him third among all active quarterbacks.
The two quarterbacks ahead of him on the record are Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, not bad competition for him to be in. If Flacco's durability continues for several more seasons, he could soon top 70 games and join the top 20 of all time. Credit must be given to both his offensive line and Flacco's tall frame which allows him to take those brutal hits.
Of course the postseason starts are what makes his record even more special. He has won five of his nine playoff starts, with eight of them on the road. His four road playoff wins are second most in NFL history, behind Manning's record of five that he set this year.
By simply staying healthy, Flacco has the potential to make more NFL history. For now it seems to be a good bet that he will be able to do so.
Ray Rice is arguably the best running back in the league today and his contributions to the Ravens offense should not be taken lightly. He also is great at catching the ball out of the backfield and has turned into a reliable running back that can carry the ball 20-plus times in a game. Having a player like that takes away tons of the pressure that many quarterbacks without running games have.
Rice is currently a free agent although sources indicate he will receive the Ravens franchise tag. Once he's definitely back, the Ravens will need to find someone to become his backup. With Rice and another good running back coming in every now and then, the Ravens run game will continue to give Flacco a security blanket.
In addition to their players at receiver, the Ravens have got to love the progress they've seen from the two young tight ends picked up the 2010 NFL Draft. Ed Dickson started every game and finished the year with 54 catches for 528 yards and nine touchdowns. His backup Dennis Pitta had 40 catches for 405 yards and three touchdowns.
Both tight ends are promising young players that look to become big parts of the Ravens offense; however, the chemistry between Joe Flacco and Pitta seems to suggest that the young tight end from BYU could eventually become the Ravens starter. This is coupled by Dickson's tendency to drop the ball and disappear from games.
Still both Dickson and Pitta should do well for the Ravens whether that be blocking or catching passes. Both of them are targets for Flacco that should only continue to grow in the near future.
During this offseason the Ravens will have to make some changes along the offensive line. The positions in doubt are at left guard where Ben Grubbs could leave during free agency. There is also some question about who should be the Ravens starting center going forward.
Some clarity was gained recently when Matt Birk announced that he will not be retiring this season. Still Birk is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and given the fact that this is his 15th season in the NFL, he's not the guaranteed starter anymore. The Ravens need to have a successor ready just in case Birk's play level declines or he decides to retire next season.
At the guard position, answers aren't so clear. Grubbs may or may not be back so the Ravens could draft or sign a guard in free agency. Regardless of what happens, three members of the Ravens offensive line should be back meaning that there will be continuity in the Ravens offensive line which was one of the best in the NFL last season.
No one needs to remind the Ravens just how close they were to getting to the Super Bowl last season because they know and in all likelihood, are still tortured by the cruel way their season ended. The Lee Evans drop and the Billy Cundiff missed field goal combined for a loss that will likely haunt the Ravens and their fans forever.
People seem to forget Joe Flacco finally played a great postseason game. Yes, he did have the ugly fourth quarter interception but once he got the ball back Flacco was extremely clutch.
He did everything he needed to do and essentially threw the game-winning touchdown to Lee Evans. Had New England Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore not made a tremendous play, Evans would have caught the touchdown and the Ravens would have made it to the Super Bowl. One can only wonder how the talk about Flacco would have shifted if Evans completed the catch and Flacco had the opportunity to win a Super Bowl.
That has to motivate both Flacco and the Ravens to come back and play even harder for a Super Bowl title. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Matt Birk have all decided to forego retirement to get this Super Bowl victory. If the Ravens can get over this loss, they will be a very dangerous and motivated bunch next season.
Ravens fans everywhere were displeased, and even enraged, when they heard that Cam Cameron would be returning as the Ravens offensive coordinator. Cameron has undergone tons of criticism for the conservative way he runs the Ravens offense and for how he seemingly holds Joe Flacco back.
But there was a signing this offseason that could potentially be a warning sign for Cameron. Former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell was signed as the Ravens quarterbacks coach. He was responsible for Peyton Manning's development and is respected as one of the better quarterback coaches in the league.
Flacco's best season came in 2010 when he had Jim Zorn as his quarterback coach. Caldwell could be even better than Zorn should he and Flacco get along well. There is also the possibility that Caldwell could take over as offensive coordinator midseason if the Ravens decide to fire Cameron.
Regardless, Caldwell's hiring bodes well for Flacco's future development. Especially with a full offseason, Caldwell should be up to the task of getting Flacco back to his 2010 numbers.