Joe Flacco. You know him as the franchise QB for the Baltimore Ravens, since 2008.
You also know him as a Super Bowl MVP, and the owner of the best postseason run in history (over 1,100 yards, 11 TDs, 0 INTs). You know him as the guy who has missed the playoffs only twice in his career, and had only one losing season.
So the title of this article may confuse those outside of the AFC North team fanbases.
In March, Joe Cool signed a contract extension worth $66.4 million dollars, with $44 million guaranteed, making him one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. The original contract was signed after his Super Bowl MVP season in 2012, but let’s talk about his performance since then. Simply put, he hasn’t lived up to expectations, or his contract.
He has struggled to find rhythm early in games, and his deep ball, while still powerful, has grown inconsistent as far as accuracy. He hasn’t played as smart, either, with 46 INTs since that run. Granted, we take into consideration that protection was terrible in 2013, and sadly lacking in 2015. We take into consideration that he lost his most trusted targets (Torrey Smith to the 9ers, Pitta to injury). We take into consideration that this will be his first year working with the same OC as the previous year in recent memory.
But that doesn’t excuse the fact that the Ravens in general, and Joe Flacco specifically, are under .500 since then, and have only returned to the playoffs once in the past three years. Baltimore isn’t paying for that kind of performance. They are paying for the guy that beat both Denver and New England on the way to the Super Bowl, where they beat a very good San Francisco team.
They are paying for the guy that made the Mile High Miracle happen.
This year could potentially be the one that sees the fans turn on ‘January Joe’. Last year was a mixed bag, with Joe throwing 12 INTs against 14 TDs over 10 games, but also averaging 279 yards a game, which would have averaged out to 4,400 yards on the year, a number which Joe has never come close to. Last year was also the year we saw our biggest fear come true.
Joe got injured, and to make it worse, it was season ending. (Remember, I told you that protection was lacking.)
He was 3-7 when he went down for the season. If he has this kind of performance when he comes back, Ravens fans are in for a long, agonizing season. The Ravens will break records, but they aren’t good ones. It has been a long time since they have missed the postseason two years in a row, and even longer since they posted back-to-back losing seasons. But the potential is there.
Now, at the end of the day, I am a Ravens fan. So let me play devil’s advocate and speak my own personal view on Joe Flacco. We’ll start with protection. Wagner is finally going to be fully healthy, so we should see improvement from him. We have an upgrade at LT from Eugene Monroe in Ronnie Stanley, our first round draft pick this year. (Sidenote: I think I am one of three people that actually had Stanley above Tunsil on the Ravens’ draft board.) Yanda is still one of, if not the best, offensive lineman in the league, and will remain the anchor of that line. I think we see an improvement in the line that will be as close to, if not quite as drastic, as the improvement from ’13 to ’14.
Everybody knows that injuries have plagued the Ravens over the past couple of years. Last year, we had 21 players on IR, most of them starters and impact players. (That’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.) This year, besides Flacco himself, we have Justin Forsett, Breshad Perriman, Steve Smith, Sr., Michael Campanaro, Dennis Pitta, among others coming back from injuries that saw them on the bench for the rest of the year. The Ravens signed Mike Wallace as a deep threat, as well as drafting Chris Moore as another vertical threat.
Pitta returning, and the signing of Ben Watson give him solid threats underneath, and in the red zone. Kamar Aiken has shown that he can make a difference, as has Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams. Boyle could make an impact after his 10 game suspension as well. Not to mention the plethora of running backs that we have in Forsett, Allen, Dixon, West, and Taliaferro. (Keep in mind, I don’t see the Ravens keeping 5 TEs and 5 RBs, but this is to show that the weaponry is there.)
Beyond that, we had 9 games decided by single digits in 2015. We stayed with the eventual Super Bowl Champions right up until the end of the game. The defense, more often than not, put the offense into a hole, and dropped the ball (no offense, Dez) on closing out the games.
It’s more on them than it is Joe himself, though he did make some costly mistakes.
So do I think that this year is the year that Ravens fans start resenting Joe? No, I do not. But I do believe that it can happen, and the last thing that we need in 2016 is a Jay Cutler situation. But it won’t be the long time, die hard fans that turn on Joe. It will be the newer fans, who are spoiled, and used to winning. The rest of us know that there is an ebb and flow in the NFL, and maybe these past few years have been the ebb that Joe needed to get back to the 2nd tier, postseason legend that we know he can be.
In closing, yes, this is a pivotal season for Joe Flacco, but I think it will reinforce the fact that he is our franchise QB as opposed to us turning on him.