Asking around Baltimore, and every fan has a different opinion on Joe Flacco- at times it gets as contentious as deciding if a crab cake is better broiled or fried (broiled, by the way, and yes it is that time of year when one desperately misses crab).  There are those who argue he is one of the great quarterbacks in the NFL, and others who ask, “So do you think Jake Locker will be available?”  Let’s just say there is a spectrum.  2010 was a season when Flacco undoubtedly improved, and I do not believe it can be entirely attributed to the addition of new offensive weapons in Anquan Boldin and T.J. Housmanzadeh.  In his third season, Flacco set career highs for yardage, touchdowns, and quarterback rating, and threw just 5 interceptions over the last 14 games of the season.  He also was sacked more than any other time in his career and lost 4 fumbles.  But as anyone who is down on Flacco will tell you, a look at the stats is deceiving when taken alone.

The Ravens quarterback continues to have the same problems that have plagued him throughout his career.  Despite having a cannon for an arm, his accuracy on deep routes has been lacking, regularly forcing his receivers to slow down or even stop to make an attempt on the ball.  Derrick Mason’s would-be catch against the Steelers in the Divisional Round comes immediately to mind.  He holds onto the ball too long, though this one is more difficult to prove.  Given that fans only get to see one part of the field at a time, it is difficult to know for certain how often Flacco is refusing to throw and how often there are no receivers open.  That said, there is little excuse for not throwing the ball away after 4 seconds in the pocket and taking a sack.  Moreover, Flacco ought to be at the stage of his career that he can throw the ball anticipating an opening rather than waiting for the opening to show up before he attempts the throw.  He doesn’t exclusively bear the burden for sack numbers that were inflated by the absence of a true right tackle and general lack of talent on the offensive line, but those issues remain.

There are areas where Flacco showed a marked improvement over 2008 and 2009 simply by the eyeball test.  I railed on him before the season for being unwilling or unable to throw accurately over the middle, choosing either to force Todd Heap up in the air or sailing over everyone’s head and into the waiting arms of a safety.  Teams knew that if they controlled the sideline, Flacco would be unable to make a play over the middle third of the field.  That changed this season, and whether it was due to his mentality, mechanics, or the presence of Anquan Boldin, one of the premier receivers over the middle, it was a tremendous catalyst for the passing game.  He also did a much better job of finding his receivers.  In 2009. Derrick Mason and Ray Rice had 73 and 78 receptions, respectively.  The next highest was Todd Heap with 53 followed by a major drop-off to Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington.  In 2010, Mason and Rice had 61 and 63 receptions, but the ball was spread out better with Boldin hauling in 64 catches, Heap with 40, and a host of other receivers and backs getting into the act. 

Joe Flacco didn’t prove himself to be among the NFL’s elite class of quarterbacks in 2010 as some Flacco fans believe.  But I am not sure why Ravens fans are so demanding Peyton Manning or bust under center.  For a team that hasn’t exactly been spoiled for talent at the quarterback position, Flacco remains better than most.  Yes he takes too many sacks, throws erratically in the two minute offense, and checks down too quickly.  All are areas he can yet improve, especially if the offensive line improves and Cam Cameron adopts some sort of cohesive play-calling.  The regression of the offensive line, and running game cannot be dropped at Flacco’s feet. 

But all of that aside, Flacco remains a very good but not elite quarterback, and that’s okay.  He is far from the stratosphere of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning, but remains in a solid class amongst the second tier with Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Matt Cassel, and Tony Romo (in no particular order).  He is also still getting better.  On a Ravens team that hasn’t had a halfway decent quarterback in its entire existence; I think I can live with that for now.