It's tricky to compare Ravens' Joe Cool, red-hot QBs

February 07, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

The Super Bowl showdown between Peyton Manning and Drew Brees is a perfect illustration of the overarching importance of the dynamic quarterback in today's NFL landscape, and it is something else.

It is also an opportunity for Ravens fans to watch two of the best in the business and ponder whether Joe Flacco has what it takes to be mentioned in the same conversation.

Not that it would be a major stretch. Two years into his professional career, he already is a very good young quarterback who has had extraordinary success. Nobody could reasonably expect much more than he has accomplished - leading the Ravens to the AFC title game last season and to the divisional round of the playoffs this year - but it's still hard to make the case that he's right on the threshold of the kind of greatness that will be on display tonight at Sun Life Stadium.

And, to be fair, it's probably unfair to use those guys as measuring sticks, but the Ravens held their state-of-the-team news conference right in the middle of Super Bowl week, and it's not like you can avoid seeing Manning and Brees just about every time you turn on your television or pick up a Sports section.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti apparently has been thinking about that, because he made it clear Wednesday that the road to his team's next Super Bowl will be paved with the further development of his young QB.

"I don't think there's any doubt that he's the key to any kind of growth in the system," Bisciotti said.

That's probably true, and you only have to look at the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints to see the way the skill and leadership qualities of their two quarterbacks have carried those teams to the top of the football world.

Of course, comparing quarterbacks at different stages of development is a tricky business, but Flacco's first two seasons measure up quite well against the comparable periods for the two guys who are still playing this year.

Obviously, he was thrown into the deep end last season and responded well enough to lead the Ravens deep into the playoffs. He assumed more responsibility for moving the offense this year and didn't take the team quite as far, but the numbers say he's getting off to the kind of start that should put him on par with just about anyone.

Flacco has better stats across the board than Brees did in his first two years as a starting quarterback, and he has a better completion percentage and touchdown-interception ratio than Manning had in his first two seasons. He also has played in five postseason games already - four more than Manning and Brees combined in their first two seasons as starters.

Does that mean he's going to grow into the kind of quarterback who can carve up opposing defenses like those two? Not necessarily.

If Bisciotti appeared to be oversimplifying the situation by planting the Ravens' future success on Flacco's broad shoulders, then that appearance was probably a bit deceiving. Bisciotti fancies himself a shrewd judge of people, and he made his fortune proving to be one, so you can bet that his message on Wednesday was meant for more than just Joe Cool.

Sure, he was letting Flacco know that the bar can still be raised after two playoff appearances in two pro seasons, but I'm guessing he also was sending a message to the front office and the coaching staff that Flacco had better be put in the best possible position to develop into a top-flight franchise quarterback.

Otherwise, it would be unreasonable to talk about the things that Flacco needs to do next year to take another big developmental stride. The Ravens are in danger of losing several veterans from a receiving corps that wasn't all that imposing to begin with, so his near-term development probably depends as much on general manager Ozzie Newsome as new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn.

There's also some uncertainty attached to the departure of former quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson, who is credited with bringing young Joe to this point, but Zorn - with his background as a solid NFL quarterback - will bring a new perspective that should help Flacco become a more complete player.

It's a pretty complicated situation, but there's nothing to be done about it right now. Flacco just needs to sit back on Super Sunday and watch a couple of masters at work.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM) and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.


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