Joe Flacco's Off to One of His Hottest Starts and Could Get Even Better


When Joe Flacco was asked this offseason about whether he expected to get tired of answering questions about Lamar Jackson, he scoffed.

"No, I don't, because I think we're going to win and we're not going to hear about it," Flacco said.

Indeed, four weeks into the season, the Ravens are 3-1, coming off a statement win in Pittsburgh, and nobody is clamoring to see Jackson under center in anything more than in an occasional curveball. And even then, many fans scream to keep Flacco on the field.

Flacco isn't off to the hottest start of his career, but it's a close second to his Super Bowl year.

Flacco's 1,252 passing yards rank as the second-most through the first quarter of a season, trailing only the start of his 2012 campaign by 17 yards. Flacco had 601 passing yards in the first four games last year. He's on pace to throw for more than 5,000 yards this year. His eight passing touchdowns are tied for the most he's had through the first four games of a season (2009).

Flacco isn't going to pump himself up, and he's not one to get too high or too low. But even he conceded that the offense's strong start is a big deal.

"It's always good to start on a roll, especially with new guys," Flacco said. "I believe that creating the kind of numbers we are on offense, it creates more of a team atmosphere. Everybody's in it and everybody's carrying their own weight. It creates more confidence as a team and more of a camaraderie."

It's balance. The Ravens have long been known as a defensive team, but this year they are among the league's most balanced. They are one of just two teams in the top five in scoring offense and defense.

As the quarterback, Flacco's play has been the biggest change from last year. So why has he been so good? The short answer is the reasons Flacco and his coaches talked about throughout the summer have rolled into the regular season.

Flacco is healthy and moving well, allowing him to make more off-schedule plays. He's comfortable with Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and is happy about his coaches' aggressive mentality. Flacco has perhaps the best collection of complementary weapons around him that he's ever had. The offensive line is healthy and protecting him well, making him comfortable in the pocket.

Now the question is whether Flacco and the offense can keep it up – whether those factors can persist over the course of a 16-game season.

In 2012, Flacco followed up his hot start with some tough regular-season outings before heating up again during his epic Super Bowl run. He threw for fewer than 200 yards in seven of the next 12 games (though he hardly played in a meaningless Week 17 game). For as brilliant as Flacco has been at times, he's also hit speed bumps.

Perhaps the same feeling existed after the quarter mark in 2012, but there's a sense that there's nothing standing in Flacco's way this year, and reason to believe he could get even better.

"We have the capability of doing so much and getting a lot of chunk yardage," Flacco said. "We're still leaving some stuff out there, which is a positive when you look at it. We have the potential to be even more than what we've been the last few weeks, and that's exciting."

The Ravens expect to get first-round rookie tight end Hayden Hurst on the field this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Flacco and Hurst struck up an instant connection in practices and preseason games this summer, and it should open up yet another short-to-intermediate weapon for Flacco.

"The variation we can have with those [tight ends] and looks we can create, it's going to make us more multiple and tougher to defend," Flacco said. "I think it's going to help us out a lot."

Baltimore has also had some key dropped passes and missed opportunities for more big plays. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has five drops so far, ranking him atop the league, per Pro Football Focus. Flacco and Crabtree were just a whisker away from hitting what could have been a long touchdown on a double move in Pittsburgh.

"The offense as a whole, I think we're just now getting started," Crabtree said.

If there's a game to test Flacco's consistency, this Sunday's game could be it. Flacco has averaged 208 passing yards in nine career games in Cleveland. The Browns have a talented rookie cornerback in Denzel Ward and others.

"They've always played us really tough," Flacco said. "A lot of games come down to the wire. Going along with all the stuff they do well, they have a lot of good personnel over there."

Veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been with Flacco throughout his entire career. When asked about his hot start, Suggs joked that everybody should quit talking about it.

"That's another one of those no-hitter questions," Suggs said. "He's playing well. I think the secret is for him to continue playing well. They did a good job of adding additions to our offense to help him. [But] it's four games. We've got a long season to go. Keep playing ball."

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