Flacco's first four games: We haven't learned much

October 11, 2011|By Matt Vensel

For the Ravens, at least as it relates to their starting QB, the season's first quarter was a tale of two Flaccos.

Joe Flacco was brilliant in wins against Pittsburgh and St. Louis, delivering two of the best games, statistically speaking, in his four NFL seasons. But in the Week 2 loss at Tennessee and the defense-dominated win over New York in Week 4, he completed less than 50 percent of his throws and had two turnovers in each game.

Piece the performances together and you get totals in passing yards (971) and touchdowns (seven) that put Flacco on pace to set new career highs and a 49.3 completion percentage that ranks 31st among qualifiers.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked on Monday to assess Flacco’s play in the first four games of 2011.

“The only real way, in broad terms, to assess it probably, is he’s 3-1,” Harbaugh said. “To me, he’s a 3-1 quarterback right now, which is pretty darn good. Can he be better, just like every guy on our team? … I think he’s got to get better, just like our whole team has to continue to get better. But I think he’s played well.”

Harbaugh said Flacco has done a “great job” handling protections at the line. He mentioned Flacco’s mobility while avoiding the pass rush, which has probably been on display more often than Harbaugh would prefer. And he talked about how the “explosive” offense has produced more big plays this season than in recent years.

But Harbaugh once again came back to the bottom line: “I think he’s playing well enough to be 3-1.”

On this team, with a defense that is among the league’s best in pretty much every important stat you can think of, Flacco will ultimately be judged by wins and losses, to steal a phrase from Andy MacPhail.

He has never been invited to a Pro Bowl and he rarely gets mentioned in the same breath as quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, but Flacco has done enough in the regular season that we don’t have to analyze every throw he makes on the field and statement he makes away from it.

As long as he keeps taking the Ravens to the playoffs every year, we can let games like the Titans loss slide.

The wins and losses we should ultimately judge him by are the ones in the postseason. It’s hard to be patient when following the NFL, especially when the hometown team hasn’t been to a Super Bowl in more than a decade. We want to be able to make a definitive statement about whether Flacco has gotten better since the postseason loss in Pittsburgh, whether he deserves a big-money contract extension, whether he can win it all.

Sure, we learn a little about this team and this quarterback each week, which is why we all read Kevin Van Valkenburg’s “Five Things” blog post as soon as we sit down in front of the computer each Monday morning.

We realize or remember things about Flacco, like how national analysts have no idea what they are talking about when they label Flacco as statuesque and how it’s exciting he finally has speedy receivers to throw to. Or that he still has trouble reading a defense at times or that it looks as if he misses throwing to Derrick Mason on short routes. (Now Mason’s mouth? Flacco seems to be doing just fine without that chirping in his ear every other play.)

“Those are all the things that we’re looking at, just like you guys are looking at,” Harbaugh said Monday.

But the big-picture stuff, the questions we are dying to learn the answers to, we won’t get clarity until the playoffs, when winning and losing is really the only thing that matters when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks.

Until then, we will continue to watch a tale of two Flaccos, wondering which will show up in January.

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