This is a debate that has been going on for more than a season or two. It has been a widespread question, even appearing in politics this year. Hopefully, this view, from a Ravens fan, will put the debate to bed in most people’s heads. I would play devil’s advocate, like I normally do, but I do not feel that Mr. Flacco is elite, and I will tell you why.
Half a Decade of Winning
The year is 2008. The season has just started, and all eyes are on rookie QB Joe Flacco as he breaks the huddle. The first play of the season begins, and he lets loose. 428 attempts, and 257 completions later, he has his first 14 NFL TDs and 12 INTs under his belt. He brutalizes Miami in the Wild Card game, and then beats the Colts by the skin of his teeth, to lose in the AFC Championship Game to Pittsburgh. It was at that moment that the Ravens knew we had something special. 4 years pass, with a playoff run every year. Joe and the Ravens beat both New England and Denver on their way to face San Francisco in the Super Bowl, emerging as two-time World Champions. At this point, Joe has 17,633 yards under his belt, with 102 TDs and 56 INTs. Joe’s record is 59-27 (regular and postseason). The Ravens had found their franchise QB, in Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. And they paid him for it. A LOT.
What Came Next
Enter the 2013 season. Known as the ‘Super Bowl Hangover’. Analysts and experts everywhere were torn between whether the defending champions would be their former selves, tenacious and bloodthirsty, or whether the loss of Ray Lewis would send the team into a downward spiral. It proved to be the latter, as the team stumbled towards an 8-8 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since Harbaugh and Flacco began their tenure with the Ravens. Joe had thrown for 3,912 yards, and 19 TDs against 22 INTs. Immediately, people called for his head, complaining about his performance, especially when he had just signed a contract making him the highest paid QB in the league. They didn’t care to take into account that the offensive line was in shambles, as Joe had been sacked a staggering 48 times. Fans wanted blood. Critics nodded their heads, as their words had been confirmed.
2014 turned things around for Joe and company. Under the guidance of Gary Kubiak, Flacco threw for 3,986 yards, with 27 TDs against 12 INTs, only being sacked 19 times. Ravens fans wiped their brows and sighed with relief. Injuries would plague the Ravens, causing backups to play in the postseason, and the Ravens would later lose to the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional Playoff game, blowing not one, but two 14-point leads. (Strictly on the defense, but had to be mentioned.)
It wasn’t long before the irritation with Joe was back, along with even more excuses for his performance. 2015 was a season in which the injuries started before the season did. The offensive line was subpar, to say the least. The secondary was atrocious through the first half of the year. These are all excuses. Before the injuries mounted, before we lost Joe and Forsett in the same game, Flacco was 3-7 on the season. A number he had never seen before, and neither had we, not with him. Yes, Flacco averaged 279.1 yards per game, a number that would have him reach over 4,400 yards through the air. But he was back to his former rookie self, throwing for only 14 TDs against 12 INTs, and being sacked 16 times in 10 games. Needless to say, the off-season has been a flurry of insults, questions, and critique. That was increased by the fact that Joe signed a contract extension, once again making him the highest paid QB by year. (Thanks for taking the spotlight off of him, Andrew Luck!)
What This Means
Like every fan base, the Ravens have those fans that blindly support Joe. It’s always somebody else’s fault. ‘We had 21 injuries!’ ‘The defense was terrible!’ ‘He didn’t have anybody to throw to!’ ‘He had a new offensive coordinator!’ All true. However. They don’t excuse Joe’s performance. He had weapons before the injuries started mounting. Hell, Steve Smith, Sr. played with broken ribs so Joe would have his trusted target. The offensive line was shoddy, but that doesn’t mean you stand in and take the sacks, throwing off of your back foot. Throw the ball away. Make smarter decisions. Don’t force the pass. The defense has absolutely nothing to do with how he played. Yes, they couldn’t shut down games, but if Joe had been at peak, he would have found a way to make up for them. We shouldn’t be that close at the end of the game, with an ‘elite’ QB.
Plain and simple, since that Super Bowl victory, Joe is a sub .500 quarterback. Yet people are still maintaining that Joe Flacco is an elite QB. In reality, he isn’t. I know what we have in Joe Flacco. We have an above average regular season, franchise QB, that shines in the postseason. And I’m okay with that. Would I like to see more postseason play in the regular season? Absolutely. Who wouldn’t. But calling the man elite is a ‘reach’, as we say in the NFL trash talk world.
But Why Not?
Look. I’m not saying that Joe is a terrible quarterback, and that we need to bench him in favor of Ryan Mallet. I wasn’t one of the ones calling for his head in 2013, and saying we should start Tyrod Taylor. However, he does need to step his performance up, especially for what the Ravens are paying him. Don’t force the throws that aren’t there. Be more precise with his long pass. (He has one of, if not the strongest, arms in the league.) Play smarter football. If you see the rush coming, and you don’t have an option, get rid of the ball. Don’t take the sack and cost precious yardage and downs. STOP with the jump balls. We don’t have the guys for that. (Maybe Chris Moore, but that remains to be seen.) I’m not as worried about the interceptions he throws as I am about his intangibles. I would love it if he would throw 30 TDs to 12 INTs. But unless he plays smarter football, that is never going to happen. Yes, he needs more protection from his line, but again, get rid of the ball. He has never really had a great WR corps, except for Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, with Todd Heap at tight end. But he now has a consistent WR corps. And consistency will win you the ball game, every time, over a flashy play here and there. He has a great TE corps at his disposal. He needs to use them. And if it comes down to it, he needs to make the call at the line that brings our running attack back into the game. Because at the end of the day, he is the signal caller, and no run game means a one-dimensional offense.
At the end of it all, no, I do not think Joe Flacco is elite. I believe he is a good regular season quarterback that turns on the fire in the postseason, and I am okay with that. I just need to see more from him before I even enter his name in an ‘elite or not’ conversation, or even become truly impressed by him. Yes, he’s a Super Bowl MVP. Yes, he’s been to the playoffs more often than not, and only had one losing season. He’s our quarterback, and I trust him to keep the team winning. But he’s 5 steps away from elite, and this conversation needs to be over.
Credit: Michael Telford, Original article on NFL Chalk Talk