Flacco: Ready for Glory?
With the new signing of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, it is clear what the one goal of Baltimore is: win the second Super Bowl in the short history of the franchise.
Sports nuts and fantasy geeks alike are salivating over the prospects of a receiving corps with three former Pro Bowlers at wide receiver and another at the tight end position.
These weapons on the outside, coupled with arguably the best young offensive line in football, with the likes of Ben Grubbs and Michael Oher blocking for budding superstar Ray Rice, mean that there should be a lot of points in the offense north of the beltway.
However, just for every other team, the man that touches the ball every time is the most important to winning any football game: the quarterback.
Entering his third year, Joe Flacco is seemingly ready to break open as the next star of the NFL. Towering arm strength, and a strong physical presence in the pocket akin to Ben Roethlisberger, Flacco has the tools ready for to succeed in this league.
As a rookie, Flacco was the first quarterback in league history to win two playoff games, and a year later made it to the AFC divisional round while increasing his completion percentage up over 3%, throwing for 700 more yards and increasing his touchdown total by seven.
ESPN expert John Clayton's assessment of the playoffs last season included a remark in which Flacco was an example of how elite quarterbacks were leading their teams to sure glory.
Has the franchise long clamoring for a face on the most important position in any professional sport arrived with its golden boy?
Maybe I'm in the minority, but I just don't see it. There are several issues with Flacco that make this writer concerned over the high expectations placed on him.
First, Flacco had a knack for only showing up in games against "softer opponents" in 2009.
With the exception of the playoff win in New England in which Flacco was a terrible 4-10 for 34 yards and an interception, the Ravens only beat two teams with a winning record: a LT-less San Diego team at the beginning of the year, and a home win over a Dennis Dixon-led Pittsburgh Steelers team on Sunday Night Football in overtime.
Furthermore in his five playoff games as a starter, Flacco has thrown for one touchdown and six interceptions throwing for 132 yards per game, not at all impressive.
Another reason for his woes, is his "new" receiving corps will only highlight his career problem of always "checking down", especially since their all essentially the same "type of player."
In their careers, Anquan Boldin and Housh were both great receivers number-wise, but this was mostly in a complementary position.
Boldin's strength has always been YAC (yards after catch), showing running back-like ability to break tackles was always an asset for Arizona.
However, in the end, his injury woes, his lack of true speed, and his contract headaches were too much for the Cardinals to handle.
Housh's only year as a the "number one" guy in Seattle was a disaster for the former Oregon State seventh rounder, and he simply does not have the skill-set to break through coverages as "the guy."
This, coupled with the many headaches he caused overrating his own skill set, meant the Seahawks were ready to take the cap hit to let him get out of town.
Furthermore, incumbent Derrick Mason's abilities have fallen to that "possession" receiver just as the the other two players on the field, and he does not complement these other two weapons on the outside.
Simply put, three three-yard out routes don't make a first down, meaning defenses can key in on Ray Rice runs and play soft zone coverage.
Finally, an issue for Joe Flacco is the most important way to measure any quarterback, the ultimate "If" factor. "If I'm down by _ points, can this guy lead me to glory?"
Last season, the Ravens had no fourth-quarter comebacks in their entire season and only one where they took the lead after tied in that quarter, against Kansas City the first week.
The only worthy "moment" of Flacco's leadership last season was a game in Minnesota where an insurmountable comeback put on by the Ravens was halted by a failed field goal in the dying seconds of the game.
To this knowledge, this "if" factor can best be shown in the last two playoff games in which Baltimore has lost.
When the Ravens fell behind early against Pittsburgh in 2008, or Indianapolis in 2009, was there any real "hope" that the Ravens came back and win those games? No, John Clayton, because those teams have quarterbacks which are elite and can lead their teams to victory.
A good example of this was shown in last year's divisional race which was won by a team with not only a much more solid defense than Baltimore (especially in the secondary) but a quarterback who "wins games."
In both games against the Ravens last year, Palmer led his Bengals to victory in the closing minutes of the game, something that could not have been done on the other sideline.
At the end of the day, the reality is simple: you can have all the weapons in the world on the offensive side of the ball, but if they're all the same individual and your leader doesn't "lead" you can't win football games.
Many people will say that the problem for Baltimore lies in their secondary and an aged linebacking corps, and that is by far the most glaring need of this team with Super Bowl aspirations.
But a good quarterback scores you points to outweigh these negatives on defense, and Flacco is not ready to take that leap yet.