- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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A weekly look at a player whose performance must improve in 2011.
There might not be a quarterback in the league under more pressure to perform right now than Joe Flacco. The Ravens are perennial contenders, but they can't get over the hump in the playoffs and struggle to beat the rival Steelers in the division -- or in the playoffs, which was the case this year. Now the young, strong-armed quarterback is coming under a lot of scrutiny, and I can understand why.
Flacco has all the physical tools. His arm is as good as any in football. Flacco moves pretty well and has the height to scan the entire field. He should be able to threaten the entire field -- and, in turn, be very difficult to defend. But the Ravens don't have a vertical threat to take the top off defenses. Bringing a lot of defenders near the line of scrimmage is just too easy to pull off against Baltimore's offense. That isn't Flacco's fault. It should be a priority for Baltimore to correct this issue before next season begins.
But Flacco does deserve some blame. Expectations were high coming into the 2010 season, and Flacco had few turnovers and did not make a lot of mistakes overall. He also didn't have games where he just killed his team. But Flacco rarely took games over. His 301 passing yards against the lowly Panthers in Week 11 was his highest output of the season. In what has evolved into a passing league, more big games are needed. He just didn't take that noticeable step forward that many envisioned.
The Ravens' offense needs to be Flacco's offense, and it just isn't. He isn't a great playmaker when the original plan doesn't go to script, and his pocket presence overall is just average. Pressure gives him more problems than it probably should at this stage of his career. Late in the year, Baltimore rededicated itself to the run and didn't put much on Flacco's plate. Although it could be argued that this offense should go through Ray Rice, if Baltimore believed that Flacco was a big-time quarterback, it would not have hesitated to allow him to carry the team more down the stretch. There were few pass plays called during those final three games, when Flacco threw for just 399 yards on 58 attempts for a measly 6.9 yards per attempt -- the Ravens were fighting for a playoff spot. The wild-card win in Kansas City was certainly an improvement, but the loss in Pittsburgh was a very poor outing by the Ravens' signal caller.
Jim Zorn was brought in to bring Flacco along. Now Zorn has been let go. Flacco should get more responsibility next season. Although I am not close to writing Flacco off, he does need to show more, or more changes could be in the cards down the line. Expectations are high in Baltimore.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.