Cam Convinced Joe Will be Elite

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Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron just doesn't understand how people can criticize his sophomore quarterback Joe Flacco.

Here's a guy who comes into Baltimore, a city that hasn't had a franchise quarterback since Johnny Unitas, and leads the team to back-to-back playoff appearances. And people are still complaining.

Cameron is adamant in his belief that Flacco is going to be an elite NFL quarterback and convinced that he will only continue to grow in what many people dub a critical third year – even without former quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson.

And while Cameron admits he's a little biased, he has proof to back up his claims.

"Joe's doing some things I don't know that anybody has done in the history of the game. Take a look for yourself," Cameron said. "We've gotten just a glimpse of what he's going to be."

Last year, Flacco became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to win two playoff games. This year, he became just the fourth quarterback since the 1970 merger to reach the playoffs in his first two seasons, joining Dan Marino, Bernie Kosar and Ben Roethlisberger.

He has thrown for 6,584 yards over his first two years, the fifth-most of any quarterback in league history. Flacco has also started more games in his first two seasons (37) than any other quarterback in NFL history.

"He's basically played an entire college career in two seasons," Cameron said. "I think that's remarkable."

But Flacco took his bumps and bruises this year. He threw a pair of crippling fourth-quarter interceptions against the Colts and Packers during the regular season. Then his passing attempts and yardage tailed off. He threw for 166 yards against the Steelers, then 102 versus the Raiders.

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Cameron pointed to an increased emphasis on running the ball and to injuries that hampered Flacco.

"If you actually saw those injuries and saw the amount of rehab and everything it took for him to get ready to play on Sunday, people would be amazed at his performance," Cameron said.

No matter the reasons, there's no denying that Flacco's play diminished during the playoffs. In 2008, he posted a 50.8 passer rating with three interceptions and one touchdown. This past season his rating dropped to 39.4 with three interceptions and no touchdowns.

"You're going against the top defenses in the league, much less on the road," Cameron said. "He's taken his team on the road and won three playoff games. Every young quarterback is going to struggle to some degree in the playoffs on the road."

Even though Flacco's season ended with some disappointments, Cameron looked at the larger picture.

"I think we took the next step. We took a step," Cameron said. "We threw it extremely well at different times and at times we were a little inconsistent. But what can't get lost in the whole thing is improvement."

When comparing Flacco's statistics to other starting quarterbacks around the league this season, he measures up around the middle of the pack. But when looking at Flacco's numbers compared to other quarterbacks in their second year, he's ahead or very close to the NFL's upper-echelon.

Of all the current starting quarterbacks in the NFL, only seven had higher quarterback ratings than Flacco (88.9) in their second season. The list includes Carson Palmer (Bengals), Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers), Peyton Manning (Colts), Matt Schaub (Texans), Tony Romo (Cowboys), Aaron Rodgers (Packers) and Kurt Warner (Cardinals).

All of those quarterbacks except one had at least one year of apprenticeship on the bench before they were a starter. The one exemption? Peyton Manning.

Flacco compares favorably to young Manning. Flacco posted a much higher quarterback rating than Manning in his rookie year (80.3 to 70.2) and the two were about even in year two. Peyton threw for 4,135 yards in his second season, but had a lower completion percentage and more interceptions than Flacco.

At the end of the day, Cameron points to wins and losses. Only three current quarterbacks (Roethlisberger, Rivers and Warner) had more wins than Flacco (23) over their first two years.

"Joe is going to grow as a passer," Cameron said. "But the great thing that he is learning how to do is win. You want a quarterback who can play at a high level, who can win at a high level. Let's not forget that this guy is a winner."

Many of the NFL's top signal-callers took a huge step in their third year. Cameron isn't demanding that from Flacco. He said it's not as much that Flacco personally must elevate his level of play, but rather that the offense must progress as a unit.

The Ravens still have a young offensive line and running backs. Baltimore is also looking to add more ammunition in the wide receiving corps this offseason. Cameron believes gaining more chemistry and trust among those units will help solve the offense's inconsistency by improving execution.

When discussing what Flacco specifically needs to work on during the offseason, Baltimore pundits pointed to a weakness in deciphering coverage schemes and picking up blitzes. Cameron said nothing could be further from the truth. He attests that Flacco is as good as any quarterback he's been around at understanding defenses and coverages.

"I don't see us needing to take the next step per se as much as I think we just need to continue to grow in the direction that we are," Cameron said. "In an offense you never really arrive; you're always trying to get better."

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