It's Up To Joe

'I Don't Think There's Any Doubt That He's The Key To Any Kind Of Growth In The System'

February 04, 2010|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,

At the "State of the Ravens" news conference Wednesday, team officials acknowledged that they have to add a playmaker at wide receiver, decrease the penalties and ratchet up the pass rush. * But when asked what it will take to boost the Ravens from a playoff team to a Super Bowl one, owner Steve Bisciotti pointed squarely at quarterback Joe Flacco.

"I think this next year, it's time for him to do the things that we know he's capable of doing," Bisciotti said in a 49-minute question-and-answer session with local media.

Flacco's second NFL season featured some inconsistent moments, some of which could be attributed to a late-season hip injury.

In Flacco's first 14 games this season, he completed 64.8 percent of his passes and averaged 240.6 passing yards a game. He threw 19 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.

In his last four games (including two in the postseason), he connected on 53.9 percent of his passes and averaged 122.7 passing yards a game. He threw two touchdown passes and four interceptions.

"I don't think there's any doubt that he's the key to any kind of growth in the system," Bisciotti said. "To some degree, he was maligned a little bit for not making a bigger step. What he did in his first year kind of set some unrealistic expectations."

Bisciotti later added, "If we pushed him out of his box this year - that might have been the perception - maybe some shortcomings showed up that didn't show up in his first year."

The Ravens' optimism comes from the big picture: Flacco has proved he has a strong arm, he's physically tough and he's able to win in the postseason. Not to mention, he has had the fifth-most-productive first two seasons in NFL history, with 6,584 yards, behind Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Drew Bledsoe and Jeff Garcia.

"I think you have to look at Joe's progress and say he's pretty much on track," coach John Harbaugh said. "But there's a lot of room to grow into, and Joe's committed to doing that."

Harbaugh didn't deny that Flacco's season was uneven. But he pointed out that maybe only one or two quarterbacks were consistently successful throughout the season, and they (Manning and Drew Brees) are playing in Sunday's Super Bowl.

"That's what we need out of Joe," Harbaugh said. "That's what we're building toward. To me, it's kind of a two-rail attack."

The "two-rail attack" is developing Flacco as a quarterback and improving the talent around him. Upgrading at wide receiver is an offseason priority. In two playoff games, Ravens wide receivers totaled eight catches.

Assuming the NFL will enter an uncapped year March 5, the Ravens will be limited in signing an unrestricted free agent because they were one of the final eight teams in the postseason.

But there are four different ways that general manager Ozzie Newsome said the Ravens can improve at wide receiver: They can sign a player who has been cut (as they did when Derrick Mason was released by the Tennessee Titans in 2005), acquire a restricted free agent (which would require giving up draft picks), draft a playmaker (they have the 25th overall pick) or add a player after the draft (teams are expected to cut players when they fill holes in the draft).

The top restricted free agents at wide receiver are the San Diego Chargers' Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, Denver Broncos' Brandon Marshall and Dallas Cowboys' Miles Austin. The best unrestricted ones are the Houston Texans' Kevin Walter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Antonio Bryant, Buffalo Bills' Terrell Owens and Carolina Panthers' Muhsin Muhammad.

"When you look at all of those phases, there's an opportunity for us to improve several different positions as well as wide receiver," Newsome said.

At wide receiver, the Ravens have two unrestricted free agents (Mason and Kelley Washington) and two restricted ones (Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams).

This group helped Flacco increase his passing yards from 2,971 as a rookie to 3,613 last season. Bisciotti projected that Flacco should reach 4,100 yards in 2010, a number that only nine quarterbacks exceeded in 2009.

"I do know there's a lot of attention on Joe," Bisciotti said. "Joe just looks like the kind of guy that's ready to do what he has to do to get better."

Here are other topics covered Wednesday:

* Bisciotti said he's "certainly not happy" about the Ravens' leading the NFL with 1,094 penalty yards.

"Some of it is weeding out some players that refuse to practice their technique and find themselves in those positions," Bisciotti said. "I would be the happiest guy in the world if we were 15th in the league in penalties. We play an aggressive style of defense, and I don't anticipate nor do I care if we're ever the least-penalized team. But I certainly hope we're not one of the top-penalized teams. That goes without saying."

* Harbaugh reiterated that the Ravens are counting on Mason and safety Ed Reed returning. Both said they are contemplating retirement.

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