Joe Flacco took a big step forward in the playoffs last season and got paid for it. The question on everybody’s mind since then has been whether or not he will be able to take the next step towards elite territory. 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and no picks is certainly an impressive run, but four games is just too small a sample to crown Flacco anything more than a top ten quarterback. He needs to show week in, week out that he is a $120 million quarterback before he earns the “E” word.
One thing Flacco can do to elevate his image as a potential elite quarterback is break 4,000 yards. It might seem like an arbitrary number, especially since there were plenty of 4,000-yard passers in 2012 that are considered nothing close to elite (e.g. Carson Palmer, Josh Freeman, Matt Schaub). In fact, there have been 48 different quarterbacks who have passed for 4,000 yards in a season, and they have combined to do so 110 times. In that light, it doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment.
So, what’s so special about eclipsing 4,000 yards?
Flacco has never had a 4,000-yard season in his five-year career. The closest he has come was when he finished up with 3,817 yards last season. In all fairness, Flacco cannot be fully “faulted” for never reaching 4,000 yards. The Baltimore Ravens have always employed a strong running game with Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, Ricky Williams, and Bernard Pierce. He also worked under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for nearly five years, whose conservative play-calling limited Flacco in multiple ways. Flacco has also had to deal with a revolving door at receiver, as each of his past five seasons saw the departure of at least one pass-catcher and the introduction of at least one new pass-catcher.
2013 will be no different in certain respects. The Ravens’ running game is about to get stronger with the emergence of Bernard Pierce. Flacco will also have to build chemistry with several new targets to overcome the absences of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. He has already proven that he has the intelligence and confidence to be considered a franchise quarterback, but passing 4,000 yards in 2013 would prove that he has the perseverance and reliability that is expected of elite quarterbacks.
What will be different is Flacco. Jim Caldwell has put the offense in Flacco’s hands and the freedom to use it according to his strengths. This has given Flacco more comfort than ever and will give him the confidence to make big plays.
What could be different is how the Ravens attack opposing defenses. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are known burners, and the addition of Deonte Thompson could help them spread the field like never before. Whether he throws bombs to the three aforementioned deep threats or uses them to free up the middle of the field for Ray Rice, Flacco could easily wrack up the yards and points in 2013.