Ravens to QB Joe Flacco: It’s time to lead

WESTMINSTER, MD. — The Ravens are raising the bar for Joe Flacco.

As a rookie with the Ravens in 2008, Joe Flacco signed a five-year contract with a maximum value of around $30 million.
As a rookie with the Ravens in 2008, Joe Flacco signed a five-year contract with a maximum value of around $30 million.

In two seasons as a starting quarterback, Flacco has been steady. Now, the coaches want him to be special.

"When you look at top quarterbacks, like say Ben Roethlisberger, (Tom) Brady, (Drew) Brees, they say, ‘Get on my shoulders, we’re going to win this game,’ " Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome said. "I saw it with (Bernie) Kosar. I saw it with (Brian) Sipe. Get on my shoulders, and let’s win. That’s what we’re saying to Joe this year: Get on my shoulders and win."

The Ravens have Super Bowl aspirations, and to get there they need Flacco to improve in three areas:

1. Red-zone efficiency

Flacco threw four interceptions inside the opponents’ 20-yard line last season. That is one reason Newsome acquired two veteran receivers, Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth, to join long-time target Derrick Mason. The Ravens also drafted tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta to push incumbent starter Todd Heap.

Add the pass-catching skills of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, and Flacco has the weapons necessary to finish more drives in the end zone.

"Obviously, we weren’t as successful in the red zone as we wanted to be last year," Flacco said. "The guys that we have are definitely going to make it a little bit easier."

2. Throwing into tight windows

There were times last season when Flacco double-clutched on downfield passes, or never made the throw at all, wary of throwing an interception. The coaches would like him to check-down less and attack downfield more in ’10.

"He’s just got to get used to throwing into tighter windows, and you’re not going to throw into tighter windows unless you’ve got tremendous trust," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "And trust comes with time."

Flacco says entering his third season working with Cameron, in the same system, is a blessing.

"It’s always good when you can work with a guy more than one or two years," Flacco said. "Coming into the third year in this offense, it just opens up so many more windows.

"You don’t know everything, but you know a lot more than you did your first year and you feel a lot more comfortable directing guys around and making decisions quicker."

3. Leadership

Flacco is a cool customer who seems to lead more by example than with words. Still, the longer a quarterback plays with a team the more he is expected to become the leader.

The Ravens moved up in the draft two seasons ago to take Flacco because the personnel men, coaches and scouts believed he could be their franchise quarterback for the next 10 years. So far, so good.

Still, it will be interesting to watch Flacco evolve this season—given more weapons, yet dealing with higher expectations.

"There are 1,000 little steps in a quarterback’s development, and Joe continues to take them," coach John Harbaugh said. "Whether it’s seeing things quicker, getting the ball out faster, being more aggressive downfield. It’s the same for him, as it is for all players and coaches. Every year is a chance for us to get better."

Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

WESTMINSTER, MD. — The Ravens are raising the bar for Joe Flacco.

As a rookie with the Ravens in 2008, Joe Flacco signed a five-year contract with a maximum value of around $30 million.
As a rookie with the Ravens in 2008, Joe Flacco signed a five-year contract with a maximum value of around $30 million.

In two seasons as a starting quarterback, Flacco has been steady. Now, the coaches want him to be special.

"When you look at top quarterbacks, like say Ben Roethlisberger, (Tom) Brady, (Drew) Brees, they say, ‘Get on my shoulders, we’re going to win this game,’ " Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome said. "I saw it with (Bernie) Kosar. I saw it with (Brian) Sipe. Get on my shoulders, and let’s win. That’s what we’re saying to Joe this year: Get on my shoulders and win."

The Ravens have Super Bowl aspirations, and to get there they need Flacco to improve in three areas:

1. Red-zone efficiency

Flacco threw four interceptions inside the opponents’ 20-yard line last season. That is one reason Newsome acquired two veteran receivers, Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth, to join long-time target Derrick Mason. The Ravens also drafted tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta to push incumbent starter Todd Heap.

Add the pass-catching skills of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, and Flacco has the weapons necessary to finish more drives in the end zone.

"Obviously, we weren’t as successful in the red zone as we wanted to be last year," Flacco said. "The guys that we have are definitely going to make it a little bit easier."

2. Throwing into tight windows

There were times last season when Flacco double-clutched on downfield passes, or never made the throw at all, wary of throwing an interception. The coaches would like him to check-down less and attack downfield more in ’10.

"He’s just got to get used to throwing into tighter windows, and you’re not going to throw into tighter windows unless you’ve got tremendous trust," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "And trust comes with time."

Flacco says entering his third season working with Cameron, in the same system, is a blessing.

"It’s always good when you can work with a guy more than one or two years," Flacco said. "Coming into the third year in this offense, it just opens up so many more windows.

"You don’t know everything, but you know a lot more than you did your first year and you feel a lot more comfortable directing guys around and making decisions quicker."

3. Leadership

Flacco is a cool customer who seems to lead more by example than with words. Still, the longer a quarterback plays with a team the more he is expected to become the leader.

The Ravens moved up in the draft two seasons ago to take Flacco because the personnel men, coaches and scouts believed he could be their franchise quarterback for the next 10 years. So far, so good.

Still, it will be interesting to watch Flacco evolve this season—given more weapons, yet dealing with higher expectations.

"There are 1,000 little steps in a quarterback’s development, and Joe continues to take them," coach John Harbaugh said. "Whether it’s seeing things quicker, getting the ball out faster, being more aggressive downfield. It’s the same for him, as it is for all players and coaches. Every year is a chance for us to get better."

Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

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