Flacco Set to Take on Childhood Icon

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It's safe to say that once Joe Flacco was drafted by the Ravens, his allegiances promptly shifted to Baltimore.

But it wasn't always that way.

Hailing from Audobon, N.J., a mere 10 miles from downtown Philadelphia, Flacco studied local legends such as Reggie White, Randall Cunningham and even his counterpart this weekend, Donovan McNabb.

"That's who I grew up watching, so you got to see a lot of those guys," Flacco said of the other No. 5 that will play at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday. "They've had a good team for a handful of years, and Donovan has been playing really well. For as long as I can remember, he's been a pretty darn good quarterback that takes care of the ball, and it should be pretty cool to have him come into Baltimore and go against the Eagles."

That doesn't mean Flacco will be starstruck, however. The typically stoic first-round draft pick dismisses his bid to improve to 7-4 as a starter as just another game, an approach he's taken throughout his impressive rookie campaign.

"I don't really know what it's going to be like, but right now I'm really just approaching it like any other game," he explained. "It doesn't feel any different. It just feels like they're another NFL team coming in. We're getting ready to go out there and give it our best shot, and try to put another win on the season.

"It should be pretty cool, but at the same time, they have some different guys on the team than when I grew up watching them. And I'm playing against them now, so it's a lot different."

That determined attitude has been a key in Flacco's noted improvement throughout the season.

The Ravens began the season 2-3, with Flacco throwing for 844 yards, one touchdown and seven interceptions en route to a 60.6 passer rating.

Flacco greatly matured over his last five starts since tallying 969 yards, seven touchdowns and only two picks for a 95.2 rating. During that run, Baltimore's record shot to 4-1.

Head coach John Harbaugh loves Flacco's lunch pail demeanor, especially with the Ravens coming off a 30-10 loss to the New York Giants last week. It showed when Flacco was at the team's training facility meeting with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson on the Tuesday after the defeat – the 23-year-old's only day off.

"Joe does a great job with that. I think his whole thing is to get better from one Sunday to the next," Harbaugh said. "He goes to work, comes in on Monday. He spends a lot of time in here watching tape. He's here all day on Tuesday. He just works to make himself better.

"I think he takes all the analysis out of it and just tries to become a better player from one week to the next, and that's probably why he's getting better."

Known for his size (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) and powerful right arm, Flacco came out of Division I-AA Delaware with the physical tools that made NFL scouts drool.

But, questions about his mobility remained, while some wondered whether his collegiate competition could prepare him for the next level.

Ten games into the season, after the Ravens' traded up in the draft to select him 18th-overall, it seems Flacco has offered sufficient answers.

Flacco has two rushing touchdowns this year, a 38-yard scamper against the Cincinnati Bengals and a 12-yard bootleg versus the Oakland Raiders. He even led the Ravens in rushing at Giants Stadium, totaling 57 yards on six attempts.

"I'm not a big believer in the combine, per se, but one thing that showed up was that he was an athlete," Cameron explained. "You could see that he could run. That showed up in the agility drills. Initially, I knew looking and thinking, 'This guy runs like he's 6-3, 6-4.'"

And the competition standard at Delaware?

Flacco's composure under pressure from some of the league's top pass-rushes has drawn praise from coaches in Baltimore and elsewhere.

"It's probably not even a concern with Joe," Harbaugh noted. "He's Joe. He doesn't get upset. You don't have to massage Joe at all. You just go to work. He goes to work on the job he's trying to do this week, and it's really all about football with Joe."

"He's fearless in the pocket," agreed Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid. "He gets rid of the ball. In college, Joe would stand in that pocket and he'd hang on to that son-of-a-gun until the last second and try to make a play. He still has that tenacity about him, but he gets the ball out even quicker now."

The Eagles, whose 36 sacks are second in the league (leader Pittsburgh Steelers notched one in a Thursday night contest in Week 12), will bring another tough test at Flacco.

Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson employs a myriad of confusing blitz schemes with defensive ends Darren Howard and Trent Cole (14 combined sacks) cutting sharp lanes to opposing quarterbacks.

But just like always, Flacco isn't flinching.

"They're good at what they're doing, so we're going to make sure we scheme, that we have a good scheme going into the game and we're running plays that we're all good at," he simply stated.

Sounds somewhat like the coach-speak of a seasoned veteran.

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