Joe Flacco Is Taking Over

Joe Cool has created a misconception about Joe Flacco.

The nickname given to Flacco in 2008 described a quarterback that didn't get rattled. That's still true. But it also described a player that often answered reporters' questions with a shrug of the shoulders and a sentence starting with "I dunno."

But Joe Flacco has strong opinions – very strong opinions.

When the Delaware product was thrown into the fire as the Ravens' starting quarterback as a 23-year-old rookie, he said he was just trying to do his best.

As he enters his fifth year, Flacco is more confident than ever.

His owner sees it, his coaches see it, his teammates see it. Everyone around him sees it.

Maybe it's because he's married. Maybe it's because he's a father. Maybe it's because he's won more games than any quarterback in NFL history in their first four years. Maybe it's all the above.

In any case, there's a new Flacco on the block, and he's ready to take over.

The Ravens have been forever known for their punishing defense. Now Flacco wants to finally put Baltimore's offense on equal footing.

"There's a concept out there that we're a running team and a defensive team. Well that's not what the league is anymore. That's not necessarily even what we are," Flacco said.

"I just think if we have a top-3 defense, there's no reason not to have a top-3 offense."

Flacco's Theory

The top three offenses last year were the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. The top three passing offenses were the Saints, Patriots and Packers. The past three Super Bowls featured the Saints, Packers and Patriots.

See a connection? Flacco does.

"I really think that in order to win the whole thing in this league, you've got to have a high-powered offense," Flacco said. "I think we do. It's just a matter of making our mind up that we are."

Flacco wants to see the Ravens use more no-huddle, more "quick game." He said he loves the hurry-up offense.

Baltimore has long been known for its ground-and-pound, grinding attack. But Flacco doesn't see this offense in that light, and believes that formula is a thing of the past.

"Maurice Jones-Drew led the league in rushing last year," Flacco said. "Who cares? [Jacksonville] didn't win any games."

Of course, the Jaguars did beat the Ravens last season. It was Flacco's worst game of the year, as he completed 21 of 38 passes for 137 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

But that game also feeds into Flacco's feeling that stumbles shouldn't force the Ravens to change course.

The week following the Monday Night Football loss in Jacksonville, the Ravens aired it out after falling behind against Arizona. On Flacco's arm, they mounted the biggest comeback in team history.

The next week in Pittsburgh, Flacco threw 47 passes, including the game-winner to Torrey Smith in the final minute. Everything was good in Ravenstown. That was until a stumble in Seattle.

The Ravens once again got behind, this time because of special teams gaffes. Flacco threw 52 times and completed 29 passes for 255 yards. But this time, he couldn't bring them back.

Calls for a return to the running game rang around Baltimore.

"You get criticized for that as an offense, and then we actually kind of listen to it a little bit and back off," Flacco said. "That's what's frustrating. We shouldn't have gotten that criticism. We were just giving ourselves the best chance to win."

Even in rough patches like that, Flacco is adamant that the Ravens must stay the course, must stay aggressive with the passing game.

"If you play Pittsburgh and throwing the ball 70 times gives you the best chance to win, and that's what you determine during the week, then that's what you should do," Flacco said.

As much, if not more than anyone, Flacco believes winning is the most important factor. He isn't aiming to get bigger stats, to haul in personal glory.

He wants to win. He doesn't want to not lose.

"You don't have a good defense to hold back and take it easy on offense and wait for your time to strike and let those guys take over," Flacco said. "I think you have a good defense so that as an offense you have the ability to take more chances."

Flacco then got a grin on his face.

"What's the point of having a good defense if you're not going to win by 20 and have some easy games every now and then?" he said.

Ravens Making A Commitment

Flacco has often times shared his theories with Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron, who despite some public perception, has a very close relationship with his quarterback.

As Flacco has grown in experience and knowledge, his input has been more welcomed and encouraged.

"It's just my mindset, it's the way I think about things," Flacco said. "I think we have a happy medium in there."

This preseason, the Ravens are closer to Flacco's vision than ever. They immediately came out in the no-huddle, hurry-up offense, dictating a fast pace in Thursday night's preseason opener in Atlanta.

It didn't go so well. Baltimore went three-and-out, then three-and-out again … and again. But the Ravens stuck with it.

On the fourth try, they busted through for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Flacco looked masterful on the drive, and the Ravens all of a sudden found a rhythm.

In the days following the experiment, the coaches preached patience – a sign that they are prepared to go through a few bumps in order to achieve their vision.

"It works really well when you convert; it doesn't look so good when you don't convert," Harbaugh said about the no huddle. "You have to understand how that goes. … That's going to be a big part of what we do."

Harbaugh said getting to this point has been part of the plan all along.

You don't take a rookie and toss him the keys to the Ferrari. It took time for Flacco to grow to where he is now, the point where he and the offense around him are ready to reach an elite level.

With Flacco as a rookie in 2008, the Ravens led the NFL in rushing attempts. They were 30th in passing attempts. Each year since, Baltimore has climbed the rankings in passing attempts, coming in 19th last year with 378.

Flacco now has more snaps under his belt than any quarterback his age, considering he's been to the playoffs every year and started from the jump. That includes countless high-pressure situations.

He's only 27 years old, but in many ways, Flacco is a seasoned veteran.

"It's a process of growing every part of it," Harbaugh said. "Your quarterback is probably the main cog. So his development drives what you do offensively mainly."

"To get to the next level, it takes chemistry, it takes trust," Cameron said. "We're at the best point since we've been here in that realm. That's where an offense can be special."

Something's Different

It's not just that Flacco has improved his game between the lines. He's also showing a demeanor suggesting he's ready to take this offense to new heights.

While Flacco's adamant that he's the same guy as before, those around him see a change.

Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti sees a "calmness" about Flacco. Quarterbacks Coach Jim Caldwell said Flacco looks "comfortable in his own skin."

"He's taking control," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "He kind of knows he's the man now. It's all in the way he presents himself, his body language, speaking up. When he speaks up, you know he's sure of himself, confident in himself. And it rubs off."

"I've been around the guy for five years," running back Ray Rice said. "He's definitely more outspoken in a good way. Same thing as me, you come in as a rookie and you don't know it all. You take all the coaching and then you go out there and let it fly."

So what caused this difference in Flacco?

Rice and safety Bernard Pollard theorize that it's being a new father. "Stepping into fatherhood kind of put me in my place," Pollard said.

Linebacker Ray Lewis thinks it's his past success: "If I am Joe Flacco, I've got crazy swagger," he said.

Numerous pundits have opined that Flacco has lingering confidence stemming from last year's AFC championship performance, in which he out-dueled the Patriots' Tom Brady.

Flacco doesn't think it's any of that.

He simply said he is just having more fun this year.

"People forget sometimes why we play this game," Flacco said. "But we all started this game because it's fun to us. I think we just happen to have a team that likes the game of football."

He whizzed a pass above reporters' heads when essentially dared by his teammates.

Smith had T-shirts printed with Flacco's face on it that poke fun at his constant use of the word, "bro." Both very sarcastic, Smith and Flacco burst into laughter at a mere look at each other.

"A lot of people think he's a mute, but that's not the case," Smith said. "He's always cracking jokes. I get a good laugh out of Joe every single day."

Flacco is demonstrative on the field too. He yells at referees just as much as the next player. He shouts out a curse when he misfires on a pass. He talks trash to the defense.

"Oh man, Joe's talked smack to all of us," Pollard said. "He's just like one of those dudes who sounds like a guy from prep school. He doesn't really know how to come back so he comes back with, 'Oh you're momma did it!'"

While Flacco may still not be the most affluent trash talker, his teammates are listening.

Rice got his big payday before Flacco, but he readily said his quarterback is the leader of the offense. Using his hands to signify importance, Rice put himself at about eye level. He reached far above his head to signify Flacco's status.

"It starts with Joe," Rice said. "There's Joe Flacco and everybody else."

Asked whether he would someday welcome taking over the team leadership badge from Lewis, Flacco said, "no doubt."

"That's definitely how I feel," he said.

"But I would hope that people respect that I'm not doing anything out of my personality. So if I do something they know it's real and coming from the heart. I don't have to say much, but every now and then in a subtle way, I can say something to you and you know I really mean it."

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