Steelers vs. Ravens: Is Joe Flacco Primed to Become an Elite QB?

Cian FaheyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2011

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 25:  Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates a touchdown against the Washington Redskins during the second half of a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium on August 25, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Redskins 34-31.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Joe Flacco heads into the Baltimore Ravens' clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend looking for his first ever victory over Ben Roethlisberger.

Flacco is 0-6 against the undecidedly-elite two-time Super Bowl champion.

What is decided right now is that Joe Flacco is not elite. That does not mean he can't become elite later in his career—just look at Kurt Warner's career to see that things are never just a constant.

However, Flacco doesn't look like he's in the right situation to be an elite quarterback this year. Whether fans want to believe it or not, there is no quarterback in the league that can be elite simply on his own. An elite quarterback gets the best out of the players around him and hides the flaws of the offense at best.

Even Aaron Rodgers needs help from the offense around him, while Peyton Manning learned last season that even he couldn't continue to cover the protection problems in Indianapolis. Tom Brady only ever reached the historic heights when he had the talent around him to help.

Joe Flacco doesn't appear to have that talent around him this year.

During his time in Baltimore, Flacco hasn't had to carry the offense for the most part because he has had a strong running game. This year figures to be the same as far as backfield talent, but the offensive line has too many question marks.

Ray Rice and Vonta Leach are all-pro talents waiting to overrun defenses, but Bryant McKinnie at left tackle was cut from the Minnesota Vikings in favor of Charlie Johnson. Johnson made Peyton Manning look awful last year, as he is easily one of the worst tackles in the league. But the Vikings saw so little out of McKinnie that they chose to cut him for Johnson rather than help him get into football shape.

Even when in football shape, McKinnie wasn't that good in Minnesota. He is a solid player, but not anything as good as Jared Gaither, who last played left tackle before Michael Oher. Oher himself is now on the right hand side, having been exposed on the left last year.

Pass protection could be a problem for Flacco this year because he is not a mobile quarterback. That doesn't mean he can't be elite, as neither Tom Brady or Peyton Manning are as elusive as a Ben Roethlisberger or Michael Vick, but still better overall.

Flacco needs to develop better pocket awareness or he will struggle to even be a good game-managing quarterback this year.

He will also need to instantly overcome the loss of Todd Heap and Derrick Mason. Mason and Heap have been his favorite targets since he became the team's starter, but both are now working with new teams.

Their replacements will give Flacco a chance to show off his arm strength—which is stellar—but will also somewhat test his leadership, as he is no longer relying on veterans to guide him. He is now the veteran.

The team has a very young receiving corp and two second-year tight ends that will be looking to Flacco for guidance. Nobody can say if Flacco is that leader just yet because the Ravens have had such a veteran team during his tenure.

Statistically, Flacco hasn't been an elite quarterback over the length of his career. He has been a good one with a career rating of 87.9—93.6 last year—with a 60-touchdown-to-34-interception ratio. Flacco's problem, however, has been that he excels against the weaker teams and struggles against stronger defenses.

He is yet to overcome the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs or when they had a respectable offense. The Ravens are 3-3 in the playoffs under Flacco and, statistically, he has been terrible.

A four-touchdown-to-seven-interception ratio isn't elite, it is abysmal. Completing 53.3 percent of your passes wouldn't be good for a rookie running quarterback, while a quarterback rating of 61.6 will never make you elite.

Elite players perform on the biggest of stages. The last time Joe Flacco was on the football field on a big stage, he had a 61.6 quarterback rating in a talented offense. This year, the offense has many question marks...

...whether Joe Flacco can step up is one of them.