Coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship game, hopes were high that Joe Flacco would improve upon his performance from his rookie year and avoid the sophomore slump. Overall, you would have to say that Flacco did improve, as his statistics were better across the board from his rookie year. Yet only a cock-eyed optimist would say that Flacco is a finished product, for there is much he can get better at to take the Ravens to the next level.
Early on, aided by Cam Cameron’s play-calling, the forward pass was emphasized and Flacco delivered, leading the offense to heights fans could only imagine based on last year’s run-dominated unit. The coaches had their trust in Flacco and for the most part he held up his end of the bargain. But the offense couldn’t keep up it’s high-powered ways, as there were lulls in between the high points. In fact, things began to settle back to the run-oriented attack once Flacco got hurt later in the year, coupled with the emergence of Ray Rice as a big-play threat out of the backfield. And once defenses began to take away Derrick Mason, and no other receiver stepped up as a deep threat, Flacco’s performance began to suffer. For Flacco to continue to improve, the front office must give him a playmaking receiver that can stretch the field, and he has to be able to use the whole field, not just throw from sideline to sideline. If he gets the weapons he needs, and the running game continues to be a threat, Flacco can become the franchise quarterback the front office has hoped he will be.
Other than mop-up duty, there was not much to see from backups Troy Smith and John Beck. Smith’s agent raised eyebrows near the end of the season when he announced that his client would be requesting a trade from the Ravens, with Smith asserting that he would like to play for the Cleveland Browns. It would be understandable if Smith would want to leave Baltimore; he realizes that the organization has cast its lot with Flacco and playing time would be scarce for a young guy who has dreams of being a starter in the NFL. Considering that Flacco only became the starter because Kyle Boller was injured and Smith was ill at the start of the 2008 season, Smith probably sees his opportunity to play diminished. As for Beck, Cameron drafted him when he was the head coach in Miami, perhaps he sees something in him that has only been hinted at in one preseason game of action.
If Smith leaves, the organization will have to decide if Beck is capable of being the #2 quarterback, or finding a veteran to fill the position who can step in capably when needed, but is willing to sit behind Flacco.