Another opportunity for Ravens QB Joe Flacco to take the next step

After leading the team to the playoffs for a fifth straight season, the quarterback looks to prove doubters wrong by leading team to a Super Bowl

January 03, 2013|By Aaron Wilson | The Baltimore Sun

The chaotic final moments of Joe Flacco's impressive duel with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had barely unfolded when expectations for the Ravens quarterback began skyrocketing.

Although the Ravens lost their grip on a Super Bowl berth when wide receiver Lee Evans failed to secure a pass in the end zone and kicker Billy Cundiff flubbed a chip shot field-goal attempt, Flacco had nearly toppled the Patriots. After his commanding performance, much more was expected from Flacco.

Yet that display of potential during the Ravens' loss in last year's AFC championship game hasn't translated into a breakthrough season for Flacco. It has been an erratic fifth NFL season for him, defined by turnover issues, chronic inaccuracy on deep throws and the late-season firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

Heading into Sunday's wild-card round game against the Indianapolis Colts, the AFC North champions are hoping Flacco recaptures his form from last January at Gillette Stadium.

"I thought Joe showed a lot of poise and did a lot of great things battling eye to eye with Tom Brady," Ravens tight end Ed Dickson said. "Not many guys can do that, and it's in him to do that. Joe has a look in his eye that shows me he's ready for this, and he knows we have his back. I think he's ready to be among the greats. He knows to be among the greats, he has to win a title."

In order for that to happen, though, the Ravens will need Flacco to significantly raise his game in the postseason.

Against the Patriots, Flacco completed 22 of 36 passes for a playoff career-high 306 yards and a 95.4 passer rating. It was a game where he stood tall in the pocket, unbothered by hard hits from powerful New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, and delivered the football with authority.

While the Ravens would like to see Flacco show that kind of pocket presence and decisiveness again, the quarterback downplayed the notion that he needs to duplicate his success against the Patriots.

"You don't try to recapture anything," Flacco said. "That was last year. It was a game against an entirely different team. I think we're a different team. I think we're really excited about where we are headed. I'm just excited to get out there on Sunday."

Following a regular season in which the Ravens' all-time leading passer finished with a career-high 3,817 yards, 22 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and an 87.7 quarterback rating, Flacco has another opportunity to prove himself when the playoffs begin this weekend.

"Joe really needs to play well for them to win," said former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, a CBS analyst. "They've got a bit of an identity crisis. When you watch Joe and Torrey Smith, their longball hitter, they miss a lot of throws. There are a lot of overthrows. You get the sense they're not on the same page as far as timing.

"Joe has the ability to get hot. He's big, strong and tough. He's a Top 5 talent in terms of arm strength and has a lot of mobility. Yet something's not right with this team. Something's amiss. You hope they find it and get hot, but confidence and momentum is the furthest thing from the Ravens right now."

Flacco was sacked 35 times this season and lost one fumble per game during a three-game losing streak to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos in December.

Some of the blame falls on lapses in blocking, and some on Flacco for holding the football too long.

"They're going to have to throw the football and make some plays," NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell said. "I think the nature of their offense doesn't allow Joe to improve on his weaknesses. I think they ask him to be a deep drop passer, and you could argue that one of his main issues is he doesn't have great pocket presence. The longer he's in the pocket, the less efficient he becomes.

"The nature of their offense consistently demands him to be in the pocket for a long amount of time. It doesn't look like they get him a lot of easy completions. There are great throws and great catches mixed in, but those are individual plays, not scheme plays. I think it's tough to live like that consistently."

In Jim Caldwell's second game as offensive coordinator after Cameron's dismissal, the Ravens struck a better balance between the run and the pass.

Flacco completed 25 of 36 passes for 309 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 114.2 quarterback rating, while the Ravens rushed for a season-high 224 yards in the 33-14 win over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in Week 16.

"I don't think Joe needs to do anything spectacular, just play the way he played against New York," said Anquan Boldin, the Ravens' leading receiver this season with 65 catches for 921 yards. "Come out and play that way and we'll be fine."

Playing with a quicker pace and moving his feet well, Flacco got the ball out of his hands and looked more comfortable than he had in weeks. Against the Giants, he wasn't sacked and was only hit twice.

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