If preseason is any indication, Joe Flacco will be Ravens' biggest weapon

With deficiencies in other areas of the offense, the Ravens might need their quarterback to carry them this year

August 23, 2012|Mike Preston

Unless quarterback Joe Flacco plays next week against St. Louis, he just completed the best preseason of his five-year NFL career.

That's a good thing.

Because after watching the Ravens finish the third of their four preseason games Thursday night, it appears Flacco will have to carry the offense in 2012.

The Ravens have tried to build their offense around Flacco in the previous three seasons, but it never worked out. There was always a problem, from a weak offensive line to a poor group of receivers. In some of those years, Flacco was just too inconsistent.

But now, his game appears consistent enough to shoulder the load of this offense. Some other things haven't changed, like his receivers, who dropped several passes the past two weeks, or an offensive line that will struggle again this season.

But Flacco's has thrown some nice touch passes. He is accurate on the short and mid-range stuff. He is moving well in and out of the pocket.

Nearly a year ago, this was an offense that had to be centered around running back Ray Rice, but he can't make enough plays to carry this offense alone anymore.

Facing the Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night, Flacco completed 27 of 36 passes for 266 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. In the first half, he completed 20 of 27 passes for 194 yards. He was 8-of-9 on one of the Ravens' scoring drives in the first half and 5-for-5 on another.

The Ravens opened the third quarter with an 11-play, 80 yard scoring drive finished by an eight yard touchdown pass from Flacco to fullback Vonta Leach. On the drive, Flacco was 7-of-9 for 70 yards.

It's way too early to determine the identity of this offense, and that won't happen until after the midway mark of the season.

But let's look at some early signs. Rice looks good and poised for another season in which he will rush for more than 1,000 yards and gain over 500 receiving yards.

He'll have Leach, one of the best in the league, to run behind again.

But right now everything else seems a little shaky. The Ravens can't play smash-mouth football with this offensive line anymore. Center Matt Birk struggles with big nose guards, left tackle Bryant McKinnie can't get low enough to overpower anybody these days, and the only true dominating player on the line is right guard Marshal Yanda.

The Ravens have plenty of speed in their receiving corps, but we're seeing too many dropped passes in the past two games from LaQuan Williams, Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith.

So, if the Ravens can't play ball control with a running or short passing game, they might have to turn Flacco loose.

The Delaware product has been lobbying for that the past two years, and it might be the only way the Ravens can put points on the board, especially early in the season.

The difference in Flacco this season compared to a year ago is clearly evident — and it was noticeable on the first day of training camp. He has taken more control of the team. He prefers the up-tempo style of the no-huddle offense.

"We've done a litle bit of it every year that I've been here, but we're trying to expand on it and get even quicker," Flacco said Thursday night. "We're looking to determine the tempo and put the defense on their heels a little bit. We're starting to grow at it, but I still think we have a little ways to go to get it where we really wan it to be and be really successful with it."

You can also see the influence of new quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell in Flacco's attention to detail, improved foot work and vision. In the past, Flacco didn't take criticism well, but Caldwell has stripped him of that attitude.

That will happen when you're being coached by a guy who has tutored one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game in Peyton Manning.

Flacco still has his weaknesses. He still doesn't know when to put air under the ball or put it on a line when attempting long passes, which is why he can't hit the long ball consistently. He scares me in the red zone, like he did twice Thursday night when he nearly had two passes intercepted.

But through this preseason, he has been the Ravens' most consistent weapon. Since the first quarter in the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Flacco has been hot. With an offense that has struggled to mount drives and has consistently committed dumb penalties, you want to put the ball in the hands of your top weapon.

Right now that's Flacco, who touches the ball on every offensive snap.


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