Baltimore knows what Joe Flacco is made of. We've seen him lead game-winning drives in Pittsburgh against the hated Steelers and take the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons.
The big question in Charm City, however, is what does the young quarterback have to do to take his game to the next level and lead this team to a Lombardi trophy?
Obviously, I'm not in the Ravens' locker room nor am I on their sideline, but from the comfort of my couch it doesn't seem like Joe Flacco has stepped up to become a leader for this team yet. Players like Ed Reed have voiced their opinion about Flacco's performance, and not a single player came out publicly to defend the quarterback.
With the team's defensive stars beginning to slowly fade, it's time for Flacco to recognize that this is his team. He has all the tools to become one of the league's best, but a lack of confidence has relegated him to a game manager instead of a playmaker more often than not.
I've been labeled a "Flacco hater" by some folks, but I fully believe Joe Flacco is capable of leading the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl championship. What bothers me about Flacco is his lack of consistency from game to game.
Only twice in the 2011 season did he throw more than two touchdown passes in a game, and in four games he failed to throw for a score at all. You can blame offensive coordinator Cam Cameron if you want, but when Flacco is on the field he makes the decisions, and what happens lands squarely on his shoulders.
Who's the best quarterback in the AFC North?
Seeing the field has been one of the biggest knocks on Flacco, especially in 2011 when his stats declined from the previous season. He sometimes forces passes to one target, and other times he folds like a cheap card table under the pressure when his primary target isn't open. With free agency and injuries taking their toll on the Ravens' offensive line, it will be more important than ever for Flacco to make quicker reads and get rid of the ball quicker.
The Ravens have tried to surround Flacco with talent but it's been a mixed bag. They drafted Torrey Smith in 2011 but before that swung and missed with guys like Mark Clayton, Marcus Smith, David Reed, etc. Their signings in free agency have been slightly better, but for every Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin there has been a T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Lee Evans. The talent around the quarterback heading into 2012 is without a doubt the best he's ever had during his time in the league.
The excuses are over for Joe Flacco. He is an intelligent quarterback with a strong arm and a competent supporting cast of playmakers. He has proven he can win at the NFL level and produce big numbers. Yes, the Ravens' offense is built around Ray Rice, but this team will only go as far as its quarterback will take it.
This all might seem a bit picky, and honestly it is. Most NFL head coaches would give their right arm for a quarterback as talented as the Delaware alum. However, in Baltimore expectations are high. It's Super Bowl or bust.
We've seen flashes of the quarterback that Flacco can be. Turning those flashes into consistent production on the field is how he will start to be recognized as an elite NFL quarterback and, more importantly, deliver another Lombardi trophy to the city of Baltimore.