We all knew that the winning quarterback of Super Bowl XLVII would be proclaimed elite.
Phil Simms raved about Colin Kaepernick all night long, while Joe Flacco's near-flawless performance in the playoffs also received major acclaim. To say that either of them are elite, though, is just flat-out wrong. Simply put, one ring does not an elite quarterback make. Winning the Super Bowl does not make Flacco elite.
That doesn't seem to be common knowledge, though, as many analysts have declared Flacco an elite quarterback. ESPN's Mike Greenberg, co-host of Mike and Mike in the Morning, was one of the more emphatic:
There are 8 elite QBs: Brady, Roethlisberger, Flacco, Peyton, Eli, Ryan, Brees, Rodgers. End of discussion. Thank you.—Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) February 5, 2013
Gil Brandt of NFL.com is also on the bandwagon, writing:
With respect to these two analysts, Flacco is not elite, whatever that term actually means.
The term "elite" is thrown around a lot these days, but nobody has quite narrowed down a definition for the word that makes sense. I'd like to propose a new definition for the word "elite" that should clarify where Flacco really falls.
An elite quarterback should do two things: carry an offense and carry a team.
When I say carry an offense, I mean this quarterback needs to be able to put the offense on his shoulders. When the running game is nonexistent, an elite quarterback can still find a way to make plays. He does not rely on play-action or any other player for that matter. An elite quarterback's mere presence makes an offense dangerous.
There are actually a number of quarterbacks who fit that description. Some include the obvious: Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady; others are less obvious: Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and maybe Andrew Luck.
All of these players share the ability to take over a game by throwing 40-plus attempts and still finding success.
This is where Flacco fails. In the five games in which he attempted over 40 passes this season, the Ravens scored more than 20 points just once. The Ravens only won two of those five games.
There are multiple reasons for those failures, but the most glaring is Flacco's issue with accuracy. Watch this throw from Joe Flacco and notice the mechanical breakdowns. Flacco throws off his back foot, and the ball flutters into the hands of a defender.
Throws like this were all common from Flacco in 2012. When under pressure, Flacco was prone to throwing off his back foot, resulting in errant passes. In the games in which Flacco struggled the most (against the Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs), he was pressured often and his mechanics fell apart
A quarterback who can carry an offense does not have those problems. Guys like Romo and Stafford might make mistakes, but they can overcome a lack of running game or struggling offensive line because their mechanics stay sound.
Where Flacco succeeds, and where few others do, is in the second facet of the definition: carrying the team.
This is where Brees, Eli and Peyton Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger and Rodgers separate themselves from the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFL. An elite quarterback carries the team, making the players around him better, leading the team and making plays in the most important circumstances.
Notice that all five of the quarterbacks I just listed have rings and are in playoff contention every year. They are not associated with choking (except maybe Peyton), but they are all regarded as the unequivocal leaders of the franchise.
This is where Flacco has a leg up on players such as Romo and Ryan. Flacco is a team leader, he is clutch and he is a winner.
A quarterback who carries his team has multiple game-winning drives to his credit, especially in the most important circumstances.
Remember 2011, when Flacco and the Ravens traveled to Pittsburgh in a game that had massive implications for the AFC North championship. The Ravens trailed with just a few minutes remaining, but Flacco led a magnificent drive to win the game. Few quarterbacks are so cool under pressure.
His playoff performance is another indicator of Flacco's performance as a team leader. He has been dynamite in the playoffs in recent years, with a passer rating above 95.0 in seven of his past eight playoff starts.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Flacco has started to play within himself. He recognizes the chances he should take, and those he should pass on. He is courageous enough to throw a fade route on 3rd-and-1 in the Super Bowl, but smart enough to avoid pressing the ball into double coverage.
To be clear, Brees, Roethlisberger, Brady, Rodgers and the Mannings fulfill both requirements to be named elite. No other quarterback, including Flacco, does.
Of all the quarterbacks I've mentioned so far outside of the realm of elite, Flacco has the best chance to ascend to elite status. Under Jim Caldwell, Flacco has shown signs of being able to carry the offense in a way he never has before. If that trend continues, Flacco could be hailed as elite by the end of next season.
Flacco just needs to keep showing the improved mechanics he displayed in the playoffs. Throughout the playoffs, I can't even remember an instance of Flacco missing on a throw because of poor mechanics. If it did happen, Flacco was able to recover and not fall into a rut, like he had been so prone to doing.
Elite quarterbacks have nothing to prove. Flacco still does. That means he's not elite, but there is a very good chance he finally experiences that elusive breakout season in 2013.