It’s time for Joe Flacco to raise his game

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS INSIDER - Mike Pre­ston mike.pre­ston@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikePre­stonSun

If the Ravens are to win the AFC North and pos­si­bly ad­vance deep into the play­offs, they need quar­ter­back Joe Flacco to heat up now.

Some­how, they’ve got to get him go­ing. Flacco turned in a solid per­for­mance Sun­day in the Ravens 19-14 win against the Cincin­nati Bengals, but they needed four field goals from Justin Tucker to pull out the vic­tory. Leav­ing points on the board might suf­fice against the Cleve­land Browns and Cincin­nati, which was with­out star wide re­ceiver A.J. Green and run­ning back Gio­vani Bernard, but it won’t work against po­tent of­fenses with quar­ter­backs such as the Oak­land Raiders’ Derek Carr and the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots’ Tom Brady.

“I’m com­fort­able in my abil­ity to play games like this and win down the stretch and do the right thing with the foot­ball, but in or­der for us to take that next step and be the kind of team that we want to be and be a cham­pi­onship foot­ball team, we’re not go­ing to sur­vive week in and week out do­ing things like this,” Flacco said. “We’ve got to keep the foot on the gas and learn how to put teams away.”

Flacco is at a pos­si­ble take­off point where he could get on a hot streak, just like he did in the 2012 sea­son. While he has played poorly dur­ing the first half of this sea­son, he has put to­gether a string of 10 solid quar­ters go­ing back to the sec­ond half of the game against Cleve­land on Nov. 10.

He isn’t play­ing like an NFL Most Valu­able Player, but he’s a quar­ter­back who ap­pears to be more com­fort­able in the pocket. He doesn’t have ner­vous feet, and the Ravens have helped him as far as the Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco, run­ning for a first down Sun­day against the Bengals, needs to get hot, just as he did in the lat­ter part of the 2012 sea­son. scheme.

They are mov­ing him in the pocket more, us­ing roll­outs and wag­gles. And the Ravens have added more “bunch” pack­ages to help their re­ceivers get off the line of scrim­mage cleanly, as well as cross­ing routes to take ad­van­tage of their speed.

On Sun­day, Flacco com­pleted 25 of 36 passes for 234 yards. He had one in­ter­cepted and an­other one nearly picked off for a pos­si­ble touch­down, but he never com­mit­ted a big, bone­headed turnover that killed mo­men­tum.

You know the one — when he is fall­ing back­ward and floats a pass back to the left side of the field where it gets picked off.

In­stead, Flacco has man­aged the game well. The Ravens are go­ing to need him to do more from this point on.

“I def­i­nitely wasn’t feel­ing great about what kind of po­si­tion we put our­selves in,” Flacco said about the end of Sun­day’s game. “I’d love to be able to fin­ish them off, go put a touch­down or two or three on the board in the sec­ond half and just get this game over for sure.”

The onus is on Flacco. I’m not chal­leng­ing his pas­sion for the game — as for­mer Ravens line­backer Ray Lewis did — but sin­gling him out through the process of elim­i­na­tion.

The Ravens play good de­fense, and their front seven is as good as any in the league, but their pass de­fense strug­gles and they can’t beat a qual­ity quar­ter­back. On of­fense, the Ravens have two solid run­ning backs in Ken­neth Dixon and Ter­rance West (Tow­son Univer­sity, North­west­ern High), but they aren’t home-run hit­ters like the Dal­las Cow­boys’ Ezekiel El­liott.

The Ravens have a solid group of re­ceivers, but Bre­shad Per­ri­man is in­con­sis­tent and Steve Smith Sr.’s health is al­ways ques­tion­able at age 37. The of­fen­sive line has made progress in re­cent weeks, but they aren’t go­ing to get a lot bet­ter play­ing with rookie left tackle Ron­nie Stan­ley and vet­eran guard Mar­shal Yanda and cen­ter Jeremy Zut­tah bat­tling in­juries.

So the most log­i­cal choice is Flacco. He has post­sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence and can af­fect many other po­si­tions.

If Flacco plays bet­ter, so will the Ravens. Guar­an­teed.

“I thought Joe was re­ally good,” coach John Har­baugh said. “When he dropped back, he was ex­e­cut­ing. He was see­ing the field re­ally well. He threw some strikes in there.”

But it’s not just about ac­cu­racy. If Flacco wants to get his team­mates jazzed up, put in some ex­tra time in the film room. In­stead of check­ing down so much, go through the en­tire pro­gres­sion first.

Flacco has to be bet­ter for his team to be bet­ter. He needs to chal­lenge him­self.

When you look at the best teams in this league, they all have good quar­ter­backs. The rest of the NFL is a pig pile of teams.

Pitts­burgh has a good quar­ter­back in Ben Roeth­lis­berger, but the Steel­ers’ de­fense is hor­ren­dous. Oak­land has a strong of­fense be­cause of Carr, but their de­fense isn’t that good, ei­ther. The Kansas City Chiefs are just plain soft, and the Den­ver Bron­cos need a quar­ter­back. The Ravens play good de­fense, but they need more con­sis­tency on of­fense and they can achieve that through Flacco.

Foot­ball is a team game, and it would be un­fair to say that Flacco is the Ravens’ main prob­lem.

But he could be the an­swer be­cause he is a Su­per Bowl-win­ning quar­ter­back with an im­pres­sive re­sume in the post­sea­son.

If he plays well, the Ravens are a bet­ter team. If he heats up, he could carry them quite a dis­tance.

It’s time for him to turn it on.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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