- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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We have not been asked to make our Super Bowl predictions yet, but I am leaning toward selecting the Baltimore Ravens. That isn't set in stone and I worry about their cornerbacks to some degree. But I also have some small concerns about Joe Flacco when comparing him to the elite quarterbacks in the league. Is he ready to be a Super Bowl-winning QB?
Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of Flacco. In fact, I helped recruit him to Pitt and have been watching him since his junior year of high school. He is a high-quality person, hard working and very intelligent. You can see that by the way he has adapted to the NFL.
But later in the 2009 season and in the playoffs, I saw things in Flacco's game that I didn't like. He didn't show great poise and wasn't assertive. I tend to think that his injuries were worse than any of us knew.
But considering that Flacco is entering his third season, he has progressed very well since entering the league. Remember, this is a 25-year-old quarterback whose team already has experienced quite a bit of postseason success with him under center.
Physically, Flacco can rival any QB in the league. He has a monster right arm and can threaten the defense at every level. The opponent has to defend the entire field against Flacco. He is a tough guy who isn't afraid to get hit in order to deliver the football at the proper time, and he uses his size well to scan the whole field. He is improving with his touch, knows when to take something off his fastball and is capable of making plays with his feet.
Still, Flacco is not on par with the big boys at the position right now. He needs to take his game to another level for the Ravens to win the whole thing.
Flacco didn't get much from his receiving options in 2009. Derrick Mason was a fine safety blanket who can consistently move the chains and Ray Rice is developing into one of the better receiving backs in this league. Those two things should hold true again in 2010.
The Ravens' front office has also added more prominent options to make Flacco's job easier and to keep opposing defenses honest against Baltimore's run game.
The Ravens do not have a lot invested in Donte' Stallworth, but he has a lot of natural ability and is a desperate player who is probably on his last chance in the NFL. Stallworth can get deep, which is exactly what this offense needs for its running game and to create underneath routes for Mason and the recently acquired Anquan Boldin. Boldin is terrific after the catch. He is exactly the physical player that this organization covets.
Baltimore also added two rookie tight ends with some field-stretching ability in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. The Ravens have more diversified skill sets in their pass-catchers now than in recent memory. That versatility should provide Flacco with more opportunities than ever to exploit defenses on a week-to-week basis depending on how the opponent decides to match up.
I expect the Ravens to throw more often this season and further trust Flacco to get the job done. That approach worked well early in the 2009 season, when the Ravens scored 30 or more points in five of their first seven games. But it also puts more pressure on Flacco.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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