During his annual visit to the Ravens Rap in Ocean City, Maryland I asked Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti what the organization has done differently since the arrival of John Harbaugh that has kept the window of opportunity open for the club with a league leading four consecutive playoff appearances.
Is it the coaching? The personnel? The front office? All of the above?
Bisciotti’s answer: “Joe Flacco.”
Yet more than half way through his fifth season the Ravens still don’t know what they have with Joe Flacco.
Is he the kind of quarterback that can carry a team into the Super Bowl?
If you want evidence, just look at the game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh last Sunday when facing a third and 2 with two minutes to play the Ravens asked Flacco to play it safe and only throw if there was a 100% chance of success – otherwise take the sack.
Despite having a wide-open Ed Dickson standing alone in the middle of the field for an easy first down, Flacco, perhaps driven by fear of failure, took the sack to keep the clock moving.
He played it safe.
Would Messrs. Brady, Manning, Manning, Rivers, Brees, Rodgers or Roethlisberger play it safe? Would Messrs. Ryan, Dalton, Luck, Griffin, Palmer, Cutler, Stafford or Bradford even play it safe?
The call was about playing afraid – playing not to lose.
This is what you want from your franchise quarterback?
Isn’t this the kind of play calling you might expect for a rookie quarterback?
The blame isn’t all on Flacco. Cam Cameron AND John Harbaugh must accept some of the blame as well. Some might argue, and count me among them, that the coaches are more to blame than Joe.
The finger pointing often starts with Cameron. But hasn’t this gone on long enough? If it’s obvious to you and to me that the play calling is obsolete, at some point isn’t this on Harbaugh? If Cameron’s game planning is all on him and you see that your offense can’t get out of its own way on the road, wouldn’t a good head coach want to know what is going on?
Well of course he would!
UNLESS the directive – the code red demanding ultra-conservatism, is being dictated by Harbaugh.
Could it be that Harbaugh is the one really stunting Flacco’s growth? And if it is the Ravens skipper why has he become a ball and chain for his quarterback?
Does he know something about Flacco that we don’t know?
Is it Harbaugh who is afraid on the road? Is it his “guiding” hand that makes the Ravens offense look so Jekyll & Hyde-like when comparing their attack mentality at home and their bunker down mentality on the road?
Flacco is playing in a contract year. Next year he WILL be a Raven via the franchise tag or a new contract. But what should he be paid? It could be successfully argued that any of the 15 aforementioned quarterbacks are better than Joe.
Of course Flacco apologists will point to Cameron and say that his inept road performances are all on the offensive coordinator. But is it as simple as that? Can the Ravens even accurately gauge Flacco going forward as long as he is flanked by Cameron and Harbaugh?
Maybe the Ravens really don’t want to be that offensive juggernaut. Maybe they just want a game manager. After all they asked Flacco to do in his 83rd NFL start the same thing they asked him to do as a rookie.
Maybe that’s just the Harbaugh way and Cameron is simply a convenient fall guy.
And if it is going down this way, when the time comes to re-sign his quarterback, Bisciotti needs to take into consideration that his coaches seem to prefer a game manager over an elite QB…at least where Flacco is concerned.
And let’s also keep in mind that the stabilizing force that he defined as “Joe Flacco” was able to be the difference when the Ravens had a top-ranked defense.
Can he be that guy who can carry the team through bad defensive seasons?
Will we ever know given the apparent short leash of Cameron? Or is it Harbaugh’s leash?
No matter how you view this conundrum of sorts, one thing is certain. The re-signing of Joe Flacco will be the most important signing in the Ravens relatively short history.
Overpaying him could keep the team from providing the defensive reinforcements that, judging from the way Flacco is handled, he obviously needs.
And then we’ll see how long Joe the Game Manager can keep open his owner’s window of opportunity.