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A huge leap ahead for Joe Flacco?
Similarities to Giants QB Eli Manning are difficult to ignore
Originally Published: September 9, 2012
By Khaled Elsayed | Pro Football Focus
This season will be a stiff test for the Baltimore Ravens' defense. Terrell Suggs is injured. Jarret Johnson is gone. And Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are a year older. There is a chance this won't be the Baltimore defense we've gotten used to seeing impose its will on offenses, and it likely means it won't be able to be relied on quite so much going forward.
Someone needs to step up, and Ravens fans have a right to think (after their team spent the 19th pick of the 2008 draft on him) that man is Joe Flacco.
He obviously agrees, stating earlier this year he felt he was the best quarterback in the NFL. Now all that's left to do is to back that statement up.
Flacco isn't the first player to come out with a seemingly outlandish statement. He's not even the first quarterback to express so much faith in himself that it makes you question his sanity. Last year that player was none other than Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, and the Ravens faithful are hoping that isn't where the similarities end.
History repeating itself?
At the end of the 2010 season, in which the New York Giants failed to make the playoffs, there were plenty of doubts about Manning -- and rightfully so. His career had plenty of high moments (including a Super Bowl win), but enough lows that the term "streaky" was becoming more appropriate to describe his play. Take his work under pressure. In 2010, he completed just 44.7 percent of pressured passes, good for only 22nd in the league and behind quarterbacks like Shaun Hill and Derek Anderson. In our Pro Football Focus grading system he earned a minus-3.4 grade, and his quarterback rating plummeted to just 60.6.
But those high-level numbers hid some of the context: After starting the season with six consecutive negatively-graded games, Manning would go on to finish with seven significantly positively-graded performances out of 10.
Flawed, but not fatally
You can't ignore that the Ravens quarterback had serious issues last year. Flacco completed just 27.85 percent of all deep passes, ranking 28th in the league -- worse than Mark Sanchez. He had an adjusted accuracy rating (spikes, throwaways, batted passes and hit-as-throwns not counted as attempts and drops counted as completions) of 67.3 percent, the seventh lowest in the league and worse than Colt McCoy. Under pressure, he completed a smaller percentage of passes (44.3 percent) than Kevin Kolb.
Those aren't ringing endorsements for a guy who thinks he's the best quarterback in the league, but just like with Manning in 2010, they don't tell the whole story.
They don't take into account that 2011 was very much a season of two halves for Flacco. Much like Manning in 2010, Flacco started off the season slowly, with seven of his first nine games grading negatively. And again, much like the Giants QB, Flacco responded with a tremendous second half of the year, with seven of his eight games earning positive grades.
For Manning, the finale to the 2010 season was the moment he turned the proverbial corner. He went on to lead the Giants to a Super Bowl victory in 2011, completing 54 percent of passes under pressure (fourth highest in the league) and pick up more yards on deep balls (thrown farther than 20 yards in the air) than any other quarterback. He was able to do this by overcoming an offensive line that gave up more sacks, hits and hurries combined (221) than any other in the NFL, and still challenged defenses in all parts of the field.
Now is the time for Flacco to turn his own corner, and "Monday Night Football" will provide the perfect examination of his development. Manning didn't suddenly start making plays he'd never made before, he just made them more consistently. You only needed to watch Flacco in the playoffs last season -- and particularly how he handled pressure -- to see that Flacco has the same issue. Flacco faced pressure on 40 percent of postseason plays compared to just 30.4 percent in the regular season, but completed 60 percent of passes under pressure (up, as mentioned earlier, from 44.3 percent in the regular season). There's no denying he has the talent to do it, he just now needs to do it consistently.
What it means for Cincinnati
Last season, both teams made the playoffs but Baltimore swept Cincinnati. The Ravens did so with a swarming defense that made Andy Dalton face more pressure than he was accustomed to (27.6 percent in the two games combined, compared to a season average of 24.5 percent) and by limiting feature back Cedric Benson (now with the Green Bay Packers) to no rushes longer than 12 yards in both games. With no Suggs or Johnson, it's hard to see the Ravens generating as much pass rush or being quite as suffocating in the run game, so they'll need a little bit more from their offense.
That means this game presents an ideal opportunity for Flacco to back up his words and use 2012 to become the player many think he is destined to be. Attack a fragile secondary, run an offense that keeps the Bengals struggling to stay with the pace and deliver passes that allow his receivers to make plays. If he can do those things, the Ravens should come out on top on Monday night.