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The Never-Ending Search for the Truth About Joe Flacco

If "boring" were a foreign language, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco would speak it fluently. In fact, if "boring" were a science, Flacco would not only have his PhD, he would be invited to travel around the country and give lectures in a dull monotone that would quickly put everyone to sleep.

This might seem like a shot at him, a dig at his character, but it's actually a compliment. In an era where any six-second quote, or soundbite, can send Twitter into a bloodthirsty frenzy of manufactured outrage, Flacco might be one of the most disciplined athletes in the entire NFL when it comes to being interviewed.

Like a seasoned politician, he almost never answers hypothetical questions. He rarely bites when someone goes fishing for a personal anecdote, and he won't play along when an interviewer tries to lead him down an obvious path. He's not a jerk about it. He's very polite, aside from a few eye rolls. He simply doesn't care if he come across as uninteresting. When the cameras are off and the notebooks are put away, he has a dry sense of humor and a fairly quick wit. But put him in front of reporters, or in a Pizza Hut commercial, and he is a virtuoso in the art of blandness. He's a blank canvas that actually repels paint.

Or, at least all that was true prior to this offseason.

The fact that Flacco has been so brilliantly boring for most of his career has made this offseason all the more fascinating. First, he wasn't shy about the fact that he was mad the Ravens decided to part ways with quarterback coach Jim Zorn, then there was the reveal at a charity event that he is a little annoyed the Ravens haven't signed him to a contract extension yet, and recently he felt compelled to respond to digs taken at him by Dhani Jones and LaMarr Woodley. It's been a bizarre offseason, in many respects, for the Ravens signal caller, especially when the most interesting off-the-field thing he'd done previously was shave lines into his head to look like a cast member from Jersey Shore for the Ravens Halloween party.

What's equally interesting, though, is how passionate people seem to be this offseason arguing Flacco's extremes. He's either a brilliant quarterback who isn't receiving the proper amount of respect, or he's a stiff and robotic game-manager who cannot win the big game or read a complicated defense. Barely a week has gone by since the lockout began that we haven't had someone -- be it a national pundit or a player like Jones -- arguing one extreme or the other.

Ravens fans seem equally divided.

Those deeply entrenched in Flacco's camp feel that criticizing Flacco in any way, even if it's constructive criticism, is tantamount to treason. They call into radio shows and rant on message boards that if you can't be 100 percent happy with Joe Flacco, if you dare point out any of his flaws, what it means is you'd rather return to the days of Stoney Case and Eric Zeier. Every time some national pundit praises Flacco, this group treats it as absolute gospel, even though that national pundit they cite has likely seen Flacco play in fewer games than their mother-in-law. They twist themselves into a daily pretzel trying to find statistics that prove Flacco is a superior quarterback to Matt Ryan or Philip Rivers, refuse to acknowledge what a ridiculous inexact science quarterback rating is, and they blame Cam Cameron for every missed read or bad throw. Even when he holds the ball for six seconds, they still blame the offensive line or the wide receivers.

In the other camp, we have the Flacco Detractors who refuse to acknowledge his steady improvement during the three years he's been in the NFL. They obsess over how poorly he played in the first half against the Falcons last year, but barely acknowledge how well he played in the second half when he led the Ravens on what should have been the winning drive in the Georgia Dome. They act like Derrick Mason is 27, not 37, and that he still has break-away speed. They hammer away at what they perceive to be Flacco's lack of fiery leadership, even though Flacco's lack of ego seems to be one of his greatest assets as a leader. The Flacco Detractors aren't interested in being patient. They spent two seasons calling for Troy Smith and another season calling for Marc Bulger, and they only begrudgingly acknowledge how impressive it is to lead a team to the playoffs three years in a row, especially when you played your college football against guys who are now selling insurance or pharmaceuticals. 

But the truth about Flacco is that both camps are partially right. It's a boring position to take, and not one that could carry a full three hours of sports talk radio or spark a message board debate that would go 15 pages deep, but it's the most honest analysis.

Unless you're using an slide ruler and an abacus, or you're drunk on purple whiskey, there is simply no way you can credibly claim Flacco is as good as Philip Rivers. Football is not baseball, where statistics can be viewed in a vacuum. Statistics can't properly quantify a quarterback's pre-snap read, for instance. What Dhani Jones said recently -- that Flacco gets confused when teams put a lot of defenders in the box and bring pressure from different angles -- isn't even that controversial. Flacco needs to better understand how to control the line of scrimmage, whether it's changing the play, changing the blocking scheme, or simply growing more aware of where pressure might be coming from and then getting rid of the ball quickly. There is a reason he struggles against the Bengals and Steelers more than he does against other teams. They know his tendencies, and they know he's not comfortable throwing to certain areas of the field. So they take his favorite routes away and dare him to adjust. Often times, he can't. John Harbaugh said after the season that Flacco has to be more aggressive throwing into tight windows. And he's right.

But Flacco doesn't get nearly enough credit for bringing stability to the quarterback position for the first time in franchise history. In a year when the Ravens had a very mediocre running game and three wide receivers who couldn't get behind a single defense in the NFL, he was one of the Top 5 quarterbacks in the AFC. He may not be the kind of quarterback who can consistently drag a team to victory on a day when nothing else is working, but those kinds of players might come along two or three times a decade. There is no shame in being a good player who keeps making gradual progress. Harbaugh once explained to me that the education of an NFL quarterback is a lot like climbing a staircase. He's not going to wake up one day and be standing at the top of the stairs. He's going to climb, and level off, and climb, and level off. Sometimes the climb is going to be frustrating. Sometimes it's going to be thrilling. But it's clear that Flacco is still climbing.

NFL offseasons are always particularly maddening because even though the thirst for football is now year round, from February until August all we can do is talk in circles. Without free agency or minicamps to fill dead air, this offseason has been all the more frustrating.

But eventually, there will be a labor agreement. It's looking more likely by the day. And in time, we can stop debating what happened last year and start anticipating what's to come. I suspect Flacco will revert back to his old self once training camp begins, politely shrugging off innocuous, but often pointless questions about whether he feels more confident, more capable of leading this team to a Super Bowl. (And really, how is he supposed to answer a question like that? "No, actually, I'm terrified, but thank you for asking me.") Whatever Flacco's true feelings are, he knows it's best to keep them to himself.

But the debate about his strengths versus his shortcomings is not going away. It's going to continue as long as we watch him climb the staircase. And while it may get repetitive at times, it won't be boring.

Comments

"Those deeply entrenched in Flacco's camp feel that criticizing Flacco in any way, even if it's constructive criticism, is tantamount to treason" No when weak sports reporters take non stop shots at the guy people are going to stick up for him. And when its everyday people have just had enough. Weak writing all off season by a bunch of writers just looking to stir s--t.

"even if it's constructive criticism" From Sun Sports writers. LOL boy you guys are clowns.

Flacco is not good enough to beat good defenses consistently enough to win a Super Bowl... yet. If he was then the Ravens would have won one last year. I am hoping he gets better at reading a cover-2, throwing across the middle, actually looking for receivers when he flushed from the pocket and most of all finding and hitting open receivers with deep throws. I think Cam sucks like most Raven fans, but Flacco only hits about 30% of his deep throws in stride with his receivers. Boldin and Mason aren't as fast as they once were but a few times this year they were able to get open deep and Flacco missed them. Same thing with Heap, who Flacco missed at least twice in the final playoff game with once getting picked off on a throw he never should have made..

Flacco is quiet!
When one presents a blank slate and does not speak out, those who love to gossip will fill in the blanks.
Yes, to all fans, you "manly men" out there who think that women who gossip are silly, I have news for you: This is exactly what you are doing: Gossiping!
Just because it is about sports and not America's Next Super Model or the neighbors does not change that it is gossip!
Go ahead and admit it, enjoy it if you must. Maybe you could find something better to do.... Lord knows the world needs a lot of help!

I want the guy to succeed. Heck, I bought a Flacco jersey before he even started his first pro game. I love this analysis and agree that Flacco is somewhere in between where most observers would place him. He is clearly not a "tier 1" QB of the caliber of Rodgers, Manning, Brady, Rivers, Brees, Roethlisberger, but he is a steady starter with upside. Should the Ravens have given the guy a franchise QB deal with two years left on his contract, as he whined about?

I'd love to see Flacco get to Tier 1/pro bowl status on his own, in the process EARNING his big contract. I'd love to see him become more of a leader on the team, and more of a general on the field. I'd love to see him taking personal responsibility, rather than intimating that it was Cam's playcalling or something else that caused a loss. A franchise QB believes he should win every game and takes personal responsibility for every loss, he looks at it as "the buck stops with me," and I don't think Flacco is there yet.

I'm troubled by the persistent perception that the Ravens continue to feel uncomfortable giving Flacco more freedom, and the persistent perception among opposing teams that there is an easy way to shut down Joe Flacco. Franchise QBs do not have these types of perceptions hanging around them, and Flacco will need to dispel them to get that big contract he wants.

I don't care a lick about his demeanor!! He can't read defenses and lost the second Steeler game by not seeing (responding to) a blitz coming from a player 15 feet from him. Joe, when playing Pittsburgh, black jersey lined up on the line without a blocker is bad news!!!!

Good article from Kevin and good post by Andrew. It amazes me the difference in opinion on Flacco. But I have to say that if he picked up the pace just a bit more (which we have been waiting for for 3 years), just about everyone would be in his corner. Some people are simply just blindly devoted to this guy. Others are far more objective and see his faults. He's a good solid QB but needs to find a way to command this offense, see the field better, find the open recievers more often, get rid of the ball faster, and elude the rush better - all of which would give him more passing yards, more TD's, more wins against the top tiers teams and move fans like myself into his corner.

ok, Flacco commnet time again... this is getting old news. Flacco is a good QB for the NFL 16 game season. I take exception to the comments that he has lead the Ravens to 3 playoffs. It is true that he has been the QB but like Dilfer, you never say he lead us to a SB. Flacco and Dilfer QB'ed the wins because of the Ravens defence and special teams. The media gives these two groups a dis-service when they say Flacco lead the ravens to 3 consecutive playoffs or the SB.. Lets be fair and honest about this. Flaccos's record in the playoffs is a far cry then the season and so is his stats. Measure everything when you make those brash statements.

I feel Flacco could be better if he had a real OC. I think Cam is a bigger problems because he makes the offence more look like he coached miami in their 1-15 rear. He I feel has been holding Flacco back and Flacco need to be opened up to the full capability for QB passes. The 6-7 yard outs to the wideouts the other team already knows so how can a receiver get open when the defence already knows what routes the reciever will run? The dump (count 3 anad turn around ray play) the defence already knows as well. Is there a slant pass in ut offencive playbook? And does our deep speed reciever have a pass play in our playbook or are all our deep passes called end around left end arond right. That is CAM not Flacco. So is our get a lead and in the 3rd and 4th qtr run two runs at right tackle then throw a pass on 3ed and ten. How imaginative does a DC have to be to kow CAM's playbook?

As usual, kevin, your attempt to inject some sanity into the baltimore fanbase has failed. But, as usual, I appreciate the attempt.

You just can't please everyone! Flacco has been in the league for 3 years and has improved each year. How long did it take Peyton Manning to reach the Superbowl? Was it 8 or 10 years? And everyone talks about how great he is. It even took Eli Manning 5 years to reach the Superbowl. Patience.......patience.......patience. The great QBs will tell you it takes time.

There are many knowledgeable Ravens fans who are there in that middle ground mentioned - who take the good and also freely acknowledge the bad in Flacco. Andrew's comment on the Ravens' approach to using him is a good one. Even by the standards of the article, which clearly defines both good/bad qualities, which way do you come down?

Do you look at the bad and generally restrict his play calling and manage him and the game, hoping he does "not lose" - OR - do you acknowledge his strengths and allow him more freedom to make him confident and comfortable so he "will win", realizing this will also result in some questionable decisions that could cost you in any big game? The Ravens have, so far, taken the first road and are always saying they are ready to try the second.

Very likely, this season will tell the tale. Kevin's article outlines the 2 most vocal groups about Flacco. I find myself in that mostly unmentioned 3rd group who see both sides of the guy, but realize "the time has come" for him to step up and declare, by his play, which way he is truly headed. Both Harbs and Joe say that will happen - we'll see.

The Sun's writers and those who respond are seriously flawed in their knowledge of pro football.

To be a 'great' QB requires 'great' receivers and a good or great offensive line to protect him...Flacco has had neither.

Would Montana be Montana without Rice? Peyton without Harrison? Unitas without Berry?

Ever see any of those guys 'look good' if they were under pressure?

It's a TEAM sport and as Unitas used to say, it requires that everyone do their own job for it to work.

I watched very mediocre QB's win Super Bowls because they were part of a team that played well, not because they were 'elite' QB's.

Stop dumping on one guy. He is good enough to win a Super Bowl. He can't win it by himself...no one can.

Just ask Peyton Manning.

I liked this article and thought it was well presented.

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