Flacco catching flak for no good reason

QB's decision not to set up own passing sessions with new receivers should not spark questions about leadership. He's already proved himself in that role.

May 31, 2014|Peter Schmuck

It would be funny if it weren't such a sad statement about the short attention span of sports fans and the public at large.

Joe Flacco has taken the Ravens to the playoffs five times in six years, reached the AFC title game three times and was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player just 16 months ago, and he's still catching flak for not being enough of a leader.

Didn't we already go through this with Cal Ripken?

The latest rap on Joe Cool is that he should have set up his own passing camp a month or so ago so that he could bond with his new receivers and get an early start building some offensive chemistry while coordinator Gary Kubiak installs his new system. The actual value of a few informal throw-arounds is highly questionable, but we live in a world of appearances and it would have been nice to see the $120 million quarterback putting in some overtime after a disappointing season.

Instead, Flacco chose to spend a couple of months sequestered with his wife and young children, allowing his body to recover from the unprecedented pounding he took last year. He concedes unapologetically that he was out of touch and barely kept track of the events unfolding around the team.

Meanwhile, a number of other Ravens have made headlines for a variety of unseemly incidents that have embarrassed the team, but we still have time to wonder about the commitment of the Super Bowl-winning quarterback who has done nothing but bring credit to the organization and the city of Baltimore.

Guess if he wasn't going to round up his receivers for a glorified game of catch, he should have been traveling around the country and babysitting his misbehaving teammates.

Flacco is not a perfect player. He set a franchise record for interceptions last year, and he's still got some work to do to solidify his status as one of the truly elite players at his position. It's certainly true that he's not a particularly vocal leader, though it would be hard for anyone to seem dynamic in the wake of Ray Lewis and his in-your-face theatrics.

To his credit, Flacco knows all this kind of scrutiny comes with the territory and seems to be at peace with that. It is his lot to get outsized credit when things are going well and the bulk of the blame when they aren't. The Ravens and their fans have grown accustomed to making the playoffs, so last year's 8-8 season recharged the debate about Flacco's place among the league's top quarterbacks.

Never mind that the Ravens may well have overachieved last year considering all of the obstacles they encountered during their attempt to defend their Super Bowl title. The offensive line was a mess, and the running game never materialized. Ray Rice was banged up early, and Flacco lost go-to tight end Dennis Pitta during training camp. And the Ravens were still in playoff contention until the fourth quarter of the season finale against the Bengals.

It was a wonder Flacco was still standing at the end after being sacked 48 times, more than any other NFL quarterback except the Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill (58).

This year should be different. The front office made big changes in both the offensive hierarchy and the on-field talent, handing the play-calling over to Kubiak and bolstering the receiving corps with veteran wideout Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels. There is still work to be done to ensure that the offensive line can protect Flacco and unleash the run game, but there is no question that the Ravens are better positioned to return to the playoffs.

Owner Steve Bisciotti basically said at the end of last season that anything less will not be tolerated, so this will be a put-up-or-shut-up year for everyone in the organization.

Flacco has never been bothered by that kind of pressure. That's how he got his nickname, because he's the guy who keeps his head while everyone else is losing theirs.

That's also a form of leadership, even if it doesn't involve a televised sideline sermon or a silly spasmodic dance during pregame introductions.

Flacco isn't Ray Lewis, and he isn't Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. He is who he is, and that ought to be good enough.

Count your blessings.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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