Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had arguably the greatest playoff run by any signal caller in NFL history en route to the Ravens' second Super Bowl title last season, and while he earned the massive contract that he was given, Flacco is doomed to fail this year due to a lack of weapons.
Flacco's six-year, $120.6 million contract with $52 million guaranteed was a major topic of conversation this past offseason as Flacco never proved worthy of that type of money until last season's playoffs. The Ravens didn't have much choice other than to meet Flacco's asking price, but it resulted in additional casualties.
According to John Parolin of ESPN.com, the Ravens lost several key contributors on both sides of the ball to free agency and retirement. The defensive departures were seemingly bigger as the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger and a host of others are now gone, but the offense took a hit as well as the Ravens traded wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers.
Flacco got his first taste of life after Boldin on Thursday as the Ravens were walloped 49-27 by the Denver Broncos. If Boldin's departure didn't sting enough, Flacco is dealing with injuries to some key weapons as well. Tight end Dennis Pitta suffered a dislocated and fractured right hip that may keep him out for the season, although he could potentially come back at some point as Baltimore's injured reserve player designated for return, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.
In addition to that, Flacco lost wide receiver Jacoby Jones to a sprained knee on Thursday night, according to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com. Jones was expected to take on an expanded role in the Baltimore offense this season, and he was quite effective prior to the freak injury, which occurred when teammate Brynden Trawick collided with him while Jones was waiting to catch a punt.
If Jones is out for a significant period of time, then Flacco will be forced to survive with receivers Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown as well as tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark as his main targets. Smith is a legitimate target, but Brown is an undrafted rookie, Dickson is a perennial underachiever and Clark is on the downside of his career.
Despite Flacco's lack of reliable weapons, he threw at will on Thursday night. Flacco ended the night with 362 yards on 34-of-62 passing along with two touchdowns and two interceptions. To put that into perspective, Flacco had nearly as many attempts in the first half on Thursday as he did in the entire playoff game against Denver last season, according to Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com.
Joe Flacco had 34 pass attempts in the playoff game vs Denver. He has 30 pass attempts in the 1st half tonight.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) September 6, 2013
While Flacco's stats look decent on the surface aside from the two picks, he averaged just 5.8 yards per attempt and ended the game with a QBR of 34.4. Much of his production came with the Ravens trailing and in full-on pass mode as well, so there isn't a lot to like about his performance.
How will Flacco perform in 2013?
Some of that rests on Flacco's shoulders as he made some suspect decisions throughout the game, but he didn't get a lot of help. He threw several perfectly good passes that were dropped by his receivers, and he got nothing out of the running game either.
The Broncos clearly weren't afraid of the Ravens' receivers beating them, so they stacked the box and stuffed both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce all game long. Rice and Pierce averaged 2.8 yards per carry collectively, and Flacco is not going to have any success this season if that continues.
Flacco was raked through the coals on Twitter by many during the game, including this tag-team assault courtesy of Yahoo!'s Pat Forde and Grantland's Chris Brown.
Without the Weeden-esque salary. RT @smartfootball Joe Flacco has a Weeden-esque passer rating of 65— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) September 6, 2013
Comparing Flacco to Weeden is a bit extreme, but don't expect Flacco to come anywhere near his stats from last season's playoffs if the receiving corps remains as it is. There's not a ton that NFL teams can do to improve over the course of a season since trades are few and far between, so it seems like Flacco is stuck.
When the Ravens signed Flacco to that deal, it was pretty well established that he needed solid players around him in order to thrive. He differs from the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in that way.
Had the Ravens been able to keep their team together and avoid injuries, Flacco would have had a chance to come into his own as a regular-season this year, but it's unlikely that he'll put up anything more than empty numbers based on what he has to work with.
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