Last season, the Baltimore Ravens went 8-8 and placed 3rd in the division. The offense sputtered at times, ranking 18th in passing and 30th in rushing. Joe Flacco, Super Bowl winning QB and Super Bowl MVP, ranked 28th overall when comparing total Quarterback ratings (73.1) last season. Some of the QBs that ranked ahead of him were Chad Henne (Jaguars), Christian Ponder (Vikings), Kellen Clemens (Chargers), and Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins). In addition, Flacco threw 22 interceptions last year, placing 2nd in the NFL, while only Eli Manning (Giants) threw more. It was the most interceptions he has ever thrown in a season, 10 more than his rookie year. Flacco did throw for almost 3,912 yards, but that was still only ranked 11th in the NFL. The one eye-popping number was that his 1st down conversion percentage came at a paltry 30.8%. To put in perspective, Terrelle Pryor (31.3%) and Geno Smith (32.3%) threw for more 1st downs last season. Matter of fact, the only starting quarterback that did worse than Joe Flacco in converting 3rd downs was Mike Glennon, rookie QB for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The numbers do not lie, Joe Flacco was not an elite QB last year, and matter of fact, it was one of his worst seasons since arguably his rookie year. He missed open receivers and at times seemed very frustrated by the offensive play calling. Joe Flacco threw almost 38 times a game, ranking 6th in the NFL, but was ineffective at times. The running game was non-existent and not a contributing factor to the offense, stymied by minor injuries to Ray Rice and the offensive line. Opposing teams dared Joe Flacco to throw down the field, choosing to bring a safety down into the box instead.
However, it is not all Flacco’s fault, as the offensive line was in transition this year. Not to mention, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, 2 Hall of Famers, retired during the offseason, but everybody forgets about the 3rd Hall of Famer, Matt Birk. Matt Birk was a critical asset to the offensive line as he made all the protection calls and blitz pickups. Furthermore, the wide receivers were often than not, smothered by opposing cornerbacks. Flacco sorely missed Anquan Boldin, whom was traded to the 49ers, and struggled mightily to develop chemistry with other WRs. Torrey Smith had a good year statistically, but he disappeared frequently in games. He may bring blistering speed, but cannot fend off press coverage like Boldin did. He also needs to work on catching in traffic, and catching with his hands and not his body. Marlon Brown made a name for himself last season as a rookie, but like most rookie receivers, he was adjusting to the speed of the game. Flacco’s favorite TE, Dennis Pitta, dislocated his hip in the beginning of the season, while Dallas Clark was clearly past his prime. Without Pitta, Flacco had no security blanket, and mightily struggled on critical 3rd down situations. Every QB has a receiver or pass catcher that they like to rely on when they are being rushed or in trouble. Pitta is currently healthy and will again be in the position as a breakout player because of his potential chemistry with Flacco.
The biggest key to Flacco’s development as an elite QB will be pending on the play of recently signed WR Steve Smith, formerly of the Carolina Panthers. Steve Smith is one of the toughest WRs in the NFL, and is notorious for his tough catches and electrifying plays. He is getting old, as he is turning 34 this year, but that’s what the Ravens said about Boldin before he was traded. Smith will bring tenacity to a WR core that seemed soft at times. His ability to catch in traffic, and fend off press coverage, is exactly what Flacco needs to improve as a quarterback.
Last year, the entire organization was in transition because of the loss of multiple Hall of Famers, while still defending their Super Bowl championship title. Key veterans from the SB winning season were gone, and Flacco was adjusting to becoming the face of the franchise. He valiantly tried to lead the offense, but it was obvious that he is not ready to be an elite QB just yet. This year, the Ravens bolstered their offensive line and added talent to the receiving core this off-season. The Ravens are expecting much improvement from the offense and for Flacco to take the elite step.
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