Joe Flacco has been the subject of much debate and criticism so far during the 2013 season and with plenty of reason — 120 million reasons. When you sign what was then a record setting contract, not only does it provide financial security, it can also provide headaches.
Now granted the structure of Flacco’s deal is relatively cap friendly in 2013 but beginning next season, the stakes get higher and so will the expectations. It comes with the landscape designed by the salary cap.
There are fewer dollars to go around for a supporting cast. Everyone knew that going in – when you pay your QB in a way that suggests he’s the focal point of your franchise he HAS to play to the level of that contract and if he doesn’t problems will follow.
The Ravens expected more from Flacco this season but then again, they expected more from their running game which ranks dead last in the NFL with a paltry 3.0 yards per carry. The team knew that there could be a drop off at the slot receiver with the departure of Anquan Boldin but they expected Dennis Pitta to pull up the slack – instead he pulled up lame during training camp, the preseason and the first 12 games of the 2013 season.
Despite it all Flacco has weathered the criticisms and the injuries and a defense that many thought (and still think) lacks leadership and one that hasn’t yet learned how to be clutch and finish games. Through it all Flacco still has the team in position to earn a 6th consecutive playoff berth and possibly another AFC North title if they get a little help from their friends in New England and Pittsburgh.
And some help from his good friend Dennis Pitta.
Pitta’s return changes things…
The Ravens are now likely to be more productive in the red zone. Pitta forces opposing linebackers to be truer to their assignments and not sell out to defend the run. He also loosens things up for Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown. Play action suddenly becomes a bigger weapon – a staple of the offense that ran the table during the 2012 post season.
But it all starts with Flacco.
On Monday he’ll have a chance to put the tools at his disposal to use – and he’ll need to. The Ravens will have to fight fire with fire because it’s unlikely that anything less than 24 points will win the game in Detroit.
So much attention has been given to the Lions offense, and deservedly so. They employ arguably the most physically gifted wide receiver in NFL history. But little has been made of the Lions 25th ranked pass defense and how they could be sitting ducks for a Ravens aerial assault.
Flacco will have his chance on a national stage to show the world he’s worth that big paycheck. A win in Detroit, while not as critical as wins against the Patriots next week and in Cincinnati for the regular season finale, would be a statement game and serve notice to the league that the Ravens have their playoff faces on.
And despite the up and down season and struggles on the road, the Ravens are as battle tested as they come away from home during the post season. And make no mistake about it, for all intents and purposes this IS the post season for the Ravens.
With an AFC that has no clear favorite, anything is possible.
You only have to look to 2012 for proof.