I meant to write this article two weeks ago before I slipped off on vacation, and before everyone else started to jump on the Wacko for Flacco bandwagon. Two weeks ago this would have been a brilliant piece of foresight, but after yesterday's stunning performance against the Kansas City Chiefs, I'll sound obvious. In my defense, I did draft Joe Flacco last season in my keeper league, and I did in fact keep him at the expense of players like Cedric Benson and Greg Olsen. So if I'm on the Flacco bandwagon, at least I'm the guy holding the reins.
I know some of you are thinking, it was only the Chiefs. Big deal. True it was the lowly Chiefs. But perhaps we are under-selling Kansas City. They did after all manage to put up a couple dozen points against one of the NFL's most potent defenses. Regardless, the buzz about Flacco started even before he notched 307 yards and 3 TDs (career highs) in his 2009 debut.
The signs were there in the preseason when the sophomore QB put up more yards (470, in 3 games) than wonder-stud, Aaron Rodgers (465, in 4 games). Flacco did it with no receiving corp to speak of on a team with more quality running backs than any team deserves . The Ravens have committed to opening up the offensive playbook for Flacco this season. If you think that's lip-service you'll note that Flacco threw the ball 43 times Sunday. Pretty good considering they are a run-first team that that only eclipsed the 30 attempt mark three times in 2008, and never once for more than 38.
Here are some highlights from his week one performance:
Flacco has the skills and desire to be more than another game-managing quarterback. He will have his ups and downs, and he'll certainly struggle until he gets some quality receiving targets. But he still has Derrick Mason for one more season, and TE Todd Heap seems to be healthy again and on the same page with his young QB. They connected well in the preseason and connected again for a TD in their first game of the 2009 season. It took Flacco and Heap until the 10th game last season to connect on a touchdown pass.
You might be surprised at just how good Flacco actually was in his rookie season under center. After the expected rough start in his first five games, through 10 of his last 11 games (I tossed out a nightmare against the Superbowl Champion Steelers) Flacco had a QB rating of 98.1. That was second only to the Charger's, Philip Rivers. From weeks eight through 17, Flacco averaged 16 fantasy points per game. The league leader was Drew Brees at 18 per game. (Giving due credit, I snatched that last tidbit of info from Matthew Berry over at ESPN).
Looking ahead at the Ravens schedule, they face tough teams on the road (San Diego, New England, Minnesota), and subpar teams at home (Cincy, Cleveland). Oddly enough this may play into Flacco's strengths. Last season Flacco had a 105 passer rating on the road. If that trend continues, the Ravens could push the Steelers for the AFC North title. They won 11 games last season; only one less than the Steelers. One last bit of obnoxious statistical data: Flacco's 2008 passer rating for the full season of 80.3, was still better than that of the man who won last year's Super Bowl. Roethlisberger ended the season at 80.1.