Joe Flacco wants to be considered an elite NFL quarterback. In his fourth year in the league, he is ready to take the next step in his development towards becoming one of the top ten quarterbacks in the league.
Coming out of tiny Delaware, many questioned how Flacco's considerable skills would translate to the professional ranks. Flacco had the arm to make all the throws required of an NFL quarterback, but would he be able to handle the pressure of facing NFL defenses after feasting on the weaker defenses of the FCS?
After three years in the league, Flacco has put himself on the cusp of the NFL's elite quarterbacks. In his three complete seasons, he has thrown for 60 touchdowns with only 34 interceptions. He has also picked up four playoff wins all without an elite deep threat to target.
There is one thing, however, that stands out in Joe Flacco's career. He has failed to beat the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger is on the field. Sure, Flacco and the Ravens have beaten the Steelers in the past three years.
Roethlisberger was not on the field for any of those Raven victories.
Ben Roethlisberger is well established as an elite NFL quarterback with two Super Bowl victories and another Super Bowl appearance. He is the kind of quarterback Flacco is trying to become. If Flacco cannot manage to defeat another elite quarterback, how can he himself be considered one?
Another thing that stands out in Flacco's career is the way in which he has won his playoff games. The Ravens, it seems have picked up playoff victories the past three years in spite of Flacco. He has thrown for only four touchdowns against seven interceptions in his playoff career with a very pedestrian 53 percent completion rate.
His playoff career is higlighted by two more losses at the hands of Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
You could argue that stats don't matter in the playoffs, only winning games does. You would only be part way correct. Stats don't matter in the playoffs when your team wins.
When you lose, everyone notices the stats, especially if you could have done more to help your team win.
In the Ravens playoff losses to the Steelers in 2009 and 2011, they lost by a combined total of 16 points, and last season had a 21-7 halftime lead before failing to move the ball the entire second half. Flacco completed less than 50 percent of his passes in these two games, and threw one touchdown against four picks.
The 2009 loss is forgivable because it was Flacco's rookie year. The 2011 loss, however, speaks volumes to Flacco's position in the league. Elite quarterbacks find a way to win playoff games when handed a 21-7 lead.
The Ravens do not necessarily need Flacco to be an elite NFL quarterback, with their potent running attack and bruising defense, but it is what he wants. Finding a way to finally defeat Ben Roethlisberger would go a long way to determining if Joe Flacco will be an elite quarterback or a very, very good game manager.
This is not necessarily a make-or-break year for Flacco's career. He is already a well regarded NFL quarterback, and the Ravens have faith in him. It may be, however, be a make or break year in determining whether or not he is an elite NFL quarterback.
If he fails to find a way to beat Ben Roethlisberger, he could find himself struggling to shake off the "game manager" tag that has found itself attached to so many other Ravens quarterbacks over the years.
Flacco has the weapons in place to continue his ascent to the top levels of NFL quarterback ranks. He will probably never reach the level of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, but he can put himself in the second tier group right below those four who are clearly the class of the league. Look for Flacco to finally figure out the Steelers this year and breakthrough into the top ten quarterbacks in the league.