Joe Flacco has never been short on confidence, but there's a difference in the way he's talking about this year's offense compared to past years.
As the Ravens get set to kick off their 2018 campaign, there's a lot of hype surrounding the potential of their offense. For example, at halftime of Baltimore's nationally-televised preseason game in Indianapolis, ESPN's Louis Riddick said he believes the Ravens will have the "breakout offense of this season."
Listening to Flacco speak to reporters Wednesday, it's clear he's feeling it too.
"It's super exciting to get back to football. It really is," Flacco said. "I hope the fans feel the same way, to be honest with you. I really do hope that they're excited to get out there and watch us go this year. I think we'll put an exciting product on the field."
Last year's offense was not all that exciting to watch. The Ravens finished No. 27 in total offense (305.4 yards per game). They were last in the NFL in passing yards per attempt (5.7).
Flacco entered the season with zero work through training camp or the preseason because of an injured back. He was still sore and not moving well, which affected how the Ravens had to game plan and try to execute the offense. He had hardly built any connection with his receivers.
By the time Flacco got healthy and gained some chemistry, things improved. The Ravens were the AFC's highest-scoring team in the second half of last season.
That didn't stop the Ravens from taking an aggressive offseason approach in bringing in offensive weapons. In came three new free-agent wide receivers in Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV. The Ravens' top draft pick was tight end Hayden Hurst (currently injured) followed by quarterback Lamar Jackson, who will be deployed as a wild-card in his rookie year.
Then there's Flacco, who is the key to the entire machine. The biggest difference is his health, but Flacco is more jacked up about the talent around him.
"I definitely feel a lot better, but I don't think that has anything to do with the confidence that we have as an offense and that I have as a quarterback in this offense," Flacco said. "Really, the confidence just comes from a good hard offseason, a good preseason and just belief that we have guys up front, outside, behind me, that can make plays."
The group began to mesh at the start of organized team activities and carried it through the summer and the preseason, where the Ravens finished atop the league in points scored (granted, with five games instead of four). The first-team offense scored touchdowns against the Rams and Colts and Flacco was precise in limited action.
As Flacco said, the preseason got the offense's confidence going, especially for the new weapons.
"We were able to play pretty well, and the only thing that some guys know so far is that we can be explosive," Flacco said.
"I just feel really good about where we are. I've felt really good about where we are every phase that we've hit so far. …. So, I'm really just looking at the regular season as the next step and looking forward to feel even better about how we are as a team once we get that going."
Now the obvious question is whether the Ravens will transfer that offensive momentum to the regular season, starting with the Buffalo Bills Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said the offense has had some "tremendous" practices, and that he's mostly been very happy with how the unit has looked all offseason.
"I'm excited about it. We're going to find out," Harbaugh said. "I don't think the first game is the end of the season – you know, it's the beginning not the end. But it's always good to see how you fare against NFL competition when it counts."
The offense still has question marks. Both guards, Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, are coming off season-ending injuries, Matt Skura is entering his first year as the starting center and it's still unknown who will start at right tackle. Will the three free-agent receivers all bounce back from down seasons? Will Alex Collins replicate, or improve on, his breakout season as the full-time feature back?
"It's tough to say how good we're going to be," Yanda said. "We just don't know through the preseason. We had a really good preseason, but that doesn't matter until Week 1. We're starting fresh this week and preparing to play well."