Ravens 2013-14 Season Preview: What to Expect from Joe Flacco
After signing what was the richest contract in NFL history this offseason, quarterback Joe Flacco faces lofty expectations heading into the 2013 season. With the loss of wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Flacco will look to young guys like Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta to lead Baltimore's aerial assault.
Pressure seemed to mount on Flacco heading into the postseason last yea, with questions still looming over whether or not he was good enough to lead the Ravens to a championship. Flacco responded to critics with one of the best postseasons of any quarterback ever, leading the Ravens to a 34-31 victory in Super Bowl XLVII.
With the new season quickly coming, here are five expectations for Joe Flacco in 2013.
1. Better Total Quarterback Rating
The old quarterback rating system seems to have fallen by the wayside after ESPN implemented their total quarterback rating system in 2011. With the fairly new grading system garnering more popularity and recognition than the older one, it seemed only fair to base this argument on the more popular system.
Flacco's total quarterback rating was downright awful last season. Flacco finished the regular season ranked 25th in the category with a 46.8 rating. It seems as though he can only improve on those numbers this coming season.
Some quarterbacks who finished higher than Flacco in total quarterback rating last year were Jake Locker, Sam Bradford, Ryan Tannehill and Christian Ponder, all players who Flacco is arguably better than.
With the expectations on Flacco mounting this upcoming season, look for him to perform above average and improve on his total quarterback rating stats in 2013.
2. Early Season Struggles, Late Season Success
Expecting Flacco to come out the the gate in 2013 slinging touchdowns and racking up 300-yard passing games may be a bit much early on. The Ravens have a young and inexperienced wide receiver corps that will have to step up this season in order to fill the void left by Boldin.
Aside from receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, the rest of the Ravens receivers have a total of 15 catches for 286 yards and one touchdown. The tight end position is much better with the Ravens having two experienced tight ends in Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.
Over the last two seasons, Pitta seems to have emerged as one of Flacco's favorite targets. Pitta was targeted 93 times by Flacco last season and pulled in 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. Even Dickson has had moderate success in his time with the Ravens, recording 86 receptions for 906 yards and five touchdowns during his three-year career with the team.
As with any team, it usually takes a while for a unit to gel together and find their identity every season. The Ravens will be asking their young group of wide receivers to step into the spotlight and perform at a high level during the first week of the season. It may take the Ravens a while to find out who their best option is opposite Torrey Smith, which means Flacco could struggle early on.
That being said, Jim Caldwell proved last season that he is still a great offensive coordinator and can help get Flacco over any obstacle during the season. Expect Flacco and the Ravens receivers to find a groove and turn it on after the first few weeks of the year.
3. Flacco Finally Becomes the Leader of the Ravens
Of all the offensive players currently on Baltimore's roster, only three players have more experience in the league than Flacco. While Flacco should most definitely step up and be a leader of Baltimore's offense this coming season, he will likely be looked at as the team's undisputed leader in 2013.
With the retirement of veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, the team's motivational leader for the past 17 seasons, Flacco needs to elevate his leadership role to the next level. We saw several glimpses of his ability to do so in the playoffs this past season as he seemingly willed his team to one victory after another.
Early on in his career, it seemed as though Flacco may have been overshadowed by Anquan Boldin in regards to leading the offense. Not that there's anything wrong with that; Boldin is a passionate player and a highly motivated competitor, making him a great leader for the Ravens during his tenure. However, it is now time for Flacco to fill the void left by his former teammate.
No, he probably won't be delivering fiery speeches prior to a game or come out of the tunnel dancing like Ray Lewis, but Flacco can certainly become the leader of the Ravens this year.
4. Ravens Appear in the Playoffs for the Sixth Consecutive Season
Since joining the Ravens in 2008, Joe Flacco has become virtually synonymous with playoff wins. Only seven quarterbacks in NFL history have more playoff wins than Flacco, who currently sits at nine wins in five postseason appearances.
The Ravens have not missed the playoffs since Flacco arrived in Baltimore, and with the Ravens looking to have another solid roster entering 2013, there is no reason to believe they can't reach the playoffs again.
Flacco's playoff numbers may appear slightly inflated given that almost half of his wins came during the team's Super Bowl run, where they won four playoff games en route to a championship. While his overall number of playoff wins may be slightly skewed given that he only won five playoff games in the first four seasons, they count nonetheless.
Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh are a dangerous duo when it comes to making the postseason. If last year's success in the playoffs is any indication for what 2013 could hold for Flacco, Baltimore should find itself in the playoffs yet again.
5. Flacco Throws for 30 or More Touchdown Passes
Flacco has never thrown for more than 25 touchdown passes in a season, which he did back in 2010, but this year could be a different story. It may seem like a bit of a bold statement given their young group of receivers, but it's certainly possible.
The fact that Flacco will have younger receivers on the field could bode well for the Super Bowl-winning quarterback. While Boldin may have been a great threat for the Ravens, he did not possess elite speed. Not that all of these younger receivers do possess elite speed, but it's probably safe to assume that from a speed standpoint, there are guys on the roster who can stretch the field better than Boldin.
Torrey Smith could also be poised for a breakout season in 2013, a year where he could post his first 1,000-yard season and eclipse 10 receiving touchdowns. Flacco needs to come up big for the Ravens this season. His contract leaves him little room for error in the public eye.
Despite winning the Super Bowl, Flacco should play with a chip on his shoulder. It's that kind of mindset that could help elevate his game in the coming season.