Friday, April 4, 2014
Ravens put Flacco in position to succeed
By Jamison Hensley
Last year, the Baltimore Ravens made Joe Flacco one of the wealthiest quarterbacks in the league. This offseason, the Ravens have put him in position to be among the most successful.
By reaching an agreement with tight end Owen Daniels, the Ravens have given Flacco the strongest supporting cast of his seven-year career.
The addition of TE Owen Daniels gives QB Joe Flacco yet another experienced playmaker to target.
Flacco can go deep to Torrey Smith, hit Steve Smith on a comeback route and connect with Daniels and Dennis Pitta over the middle. Everywhere Flacco looks, there is a playmaker who is experienced and dependable.
Whether it was last season or 2012, all four of these players -- Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Pitta and Daniels -- have caught at least 60 passes in a season. This makes the Ravens less predictable and should make them more productive.
The Ravens made it a priority this offseason to give Flacco his best shot at succeeding. The only player signed by the Ravens before free agency was Pitta. The only player signed by the Ravens on the first day of free agency was left tackle Eugene Monroe. The first free agent from another team signed by the Ravens was wide receiver Steve Smith. And, in what may be the last significant move before the draft, the Ravens added a two-time Pro Bowl tight end in Owen Daniels.
"There's never too many horses in the stable," wide receiver Steve Smith told The Baltimore Sun after the Ravens struck a deal with Daniels. "You can never have too many fast cars in garage."
That garage was largely empty last season after Anquan Boldin was traded and Pitta missed the first 12 games of the season with a hip injury. Flacco's top four targets became wide receiver Torrey Smith, who had never been a No. 1 receiver; wide receiver Marlon Brown, an undrafted rookie; tight end Dallas Clark, who looked like a player at the end of his career; and tight end Ed Dickson, who seemed to drop as many passes as he caught.
The lack of chemistry and consistency led to Flacco throwing a career-worst 22 interceptions, which were 10 more than he had in any previous season. The Ravens learned that Flacco isn't a quarterback like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, quarterbacks who excel by raising the level of talent around them.
But Flacco can play at an elite level with the right pass protection and receivers. The Ravens made a mistake last offseason when, after signing Flacco to a $120.6 million contract, they traded away Boldin and didn't add anyone of significance to the passing attack until the start of training camp. By that time, the Ravens brought in Clark and wide receiver Brandon Stokley, which would've been great moves in 2008, not 2013.
The Ravens signed two veterans again this year with Steve Smith and Daniels. They're not in the prime of their careers, but they're not in the twilight stages of it like Stokley and Clark. Smith was a Pro Bowl player in 2011, and Daniels was one in 2012.
What separates the 2014 Ravens passing attack is the depth. Along with the Ravens' Big Four (Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Pitta and Daniels), they still bring back a big-play receiver in Jones and a red zone threat in Brown. When you look at the big picture, the Ravens have a blend of speed, size, big-game experience and dependable hands. Defenses are no longer going to be able to just bracket Torrey Smith or play a run defense on first and second downs against the Ravens.
All of these weapons produce heightened expectations for Flacco. A 4,000-yard season is a reasonable target. Throwing 30 touchdowns is not out of the question.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome did his part to help his quarterback this offseason. The ball is in Flacco's hands now.