To say that Joe Flacco’s 2013 season was disappointing would be an understatement. With a career-high in interceptions (22) and a career-low in passer rating (73.1), it wasn’t exactly the follow-up to that glorious Super Bowl run that Baltimore Ravens fans were hoping for. In fact, after signing a then-record contract, the down year made Flacco a lightning rod for criticism—as if he didn’t receive enough already. But 2014 holds a very different fate for the Super Bowl MVP.
At least, on the field. Regardless of what he does, Flacco is going to be picked apart by “experts” like Skip Bayless and the like. But Flacco has all the pieces to craft the best season of his career—and he’s going to take advantage of it.
To preface this, let’s be clear about what last season was. Yes, Flacco deserves blame and criticism for forcing so many questionable throws, turning the ball over and not “carrying” the offense when it was sputtering. But he was also surrounded by an alarming lack of talent around him on the field—from receivers that couldn’t catch, to a patchwork offensive line that couldn’t block.
Tom Brady may have done much better with a similar lack of talent, but nobody—even in Baltimore—is claiming that Flacco is on the same level as Brady. Flacco, like all quarterbacks, needs players around him and he didn’t have that last year.
General manager Ozzie Newsome was clearly cognizant of that fact based on what he’s done this offseason. All Newsome has done is give Flacco the best receiving corps of his career and renovate the O-line to form what should be a talented group.
The gunslinger has an assortment of weapons to choose from, and Newsome has assembled a nice blend of quality and quantity for his quarterback’s throwing pleasure. What’s more, his targets have a range of different skills and are proven receivers, as ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley points out:
Flacco can go deep to Torrey Smith, hit Steve Smith on a comeback route and connect with Daniels and Dennis Pitta over the middle. Everywhere Flacco looks, there is a playmaker who is experienced and dependable.
Whether it was last season or 2012, all four of these players—Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Pitta and Daniels—have caught at least 60 passes in a season. This makes the Ravens less predictable and should make them more productive.
Hensley doesn’t even mention Jacoby Jones (always a big-play threat) or Marlon Brown (a big-bodied receiver with the necessary large catch radius to thrive as a jump-ball target). With depth, talent, variety and experience, this is clearly Flacco’s best receiving corps—on paper at least.
Furthermore, there’s a high probability that Newsome adds another pass-catcher through the draft so there could be more weaponry on the way.
Regardless, all the weapons in the world don’t help that much if Flacco is constantly under fire like he was in 2013.
He took 48 sacks last year, which was good for second-most in the league and was frequently running around in the backfield trying to avoid pass-rushers.
Just like with the receivers, the O-line that protects him should be a much better unit in 2014. Eugene Monroe and Marshal Yanda were easily the best two linemen of the bunch, and they’ll be back next year.
Then it will be three new faces. Kelechi Osemele steps back into his left guard spot, Jeremy Zuttah takes over the center duties from the underwhelming Gino Gradkowski and there will be a new right tackle—probably an early draft pick.
The new faces will make the 2014 version of the line much more reliable—the only way to go is up—and that’s another factor working in Flacco’s favor.
Lastly, there’s the impact of the new coaches. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak gets all the publicity, as he should because he has been so successful but don’t sleep on the impact new quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison will have on Flacco.
Historically speaking, Flacco has performed much better with his own positional coach to guide him through the season:
|Joe Flacco With & Without a QB Coach|
|QB Coach||TDs||INTs||Passer Rating|
The increased attention from the coaching staff will do wonders for Flacco, as will the creative play-calling of Gary Kubiak. Even though Kubiak’s scheme has typically been more of a West Coast offense, it has also involved a lot of big plays off play action, which plays right into Flacco’s strengths. Kubiak is also renowned for his play-calling, and that will be an enormous positive for Flacco and the offense.
This offseason has been all about giving Joe Flacco the tools he needs to return to his Super Bowl MVP form, and the Ravens are going to get their wish. There’s no excuse for Flacco to not break the 4,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career, as well as eclipsing his career-high in touchdowns (25).
This is going to be the best year of Flacco’s career (for the regular season, at least), and that’s tremendous news for the Baltimore Ravens franchise that is counting on him to deliver the goods.
Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter:
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