Clifton Brown and Bo Smolka have put 25 key Ravens under the microscope this month, forecasting a best-case, worst-case scenario for at least one player every day.
This is the final installment, ending with the Ravens’ most important and highest-paid player.
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UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Joe Flacco, 31-year-old quarterback
Flacco enjoys his best season, becomes a more consistent regular season quarterback, and leads the Ravens to the playoffs.
Why it could happen:
Already a Super Bowl MVP, Flacco is entering what should be the prime of his career.
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees all had their best statistical seasons at age 30 or older. It’s a great sign that Flacco has recovered well enough from knee surgery to be ready for training camp. Barring any setbacks, the knee shouldn’t be an issue. It’s also important that Flacco is working with the same coordinator, Marc Trestman, for a second straight season. Trestman and Flacco had growing pains in 2015, but they’re beginning this season with far more familiarity with each other. Meanwhile, the additions of wide receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Ben Watson give Flacco two additional veteran targets.
On paper, Flacco has more weapons than ever, particularly if tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Breshad Perriman are healthy enough to be factors. Flacco’s arm strength, toughness, composure in pressure situations, and ability to make every throw are hard to question.
If rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley and the rest of the offensive line give Flacco time to survey the field, the stage is set for Flacco to have his best season.
Flacco’s game doesn’t ascend to another level, and as a result, neither does the Ravens’ offense.
Why it could happen:
Stats aren’t everything, but Flacco has never thrown for more than 4,000 yards in a season, has never thrown for 30 touchdown passes in a season, and has never had a quarterback rating higher than 93.6, which he had in 2010.
All of that may have to change for the Ravens to make the playoffs. Flacco has been a phenomenal post-season quarterback, but it remains to be seen if he can eliminate some of his regular season valleys. The Ravens invested more heavily in Flacco during the offseason, rewarding him with a three-year, $66 million contract extension that included a $40 million signing bonus.
To whom much is given, much is expected.
Meeting higher expectations, while bouncing back from his first major injury, is the challenge facing Flacco.
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