Here's Why Joe Flacco Will Make The Pro Bowl This Year
It'd be ironic, really.
The most serious injury of quarterback Joe Flacco's career leading to his first Pro Bowl.
He's only 275 days removed from surgically repairing both the ACL and MCL in his left knee. Some quarterbacks just aren't the same after tearing those ligaments, so you could easily understand if surgery led to at least a slight decline in production during Flacco's ninth season.
Yet, there are some who think 2016 could be Flacco's best year to date. ESPN's Jamison Hensley was even so bold as to predict that Flacco will be voted by his NFL counterparts to a trip to Orlando, Fla.
"Flacco will reach his first Pro Bowl," Hensley declared. "He is primed to set career highs in passing yards and touchdowns."
Of course, Flacco already had a chance to go to a Pro Bowl after the 2014 season as an alternate, but he declined the invite so he could be present for the birth of his child. Flacco would prefer not to go again this year and instead return to the Super Bowl, but he wouldn't be opposed to being voted in.
The year before going down with the season-ending knee injury, Flacco set his career highs of 3,986 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. There are several reasons why Flacco can surpass them and become one of the best signal callers in the AFC this year.
Hensley points to the outside speed that the Ravens injected into Flacco's receiving corps with Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore. Flacco can also benefit from an extra motivated Steve Smith Sr., who wants to end his 16-year NFL career on a tear.
Add in the return of past starting tight ends (Dennis Pitta and Crockett Gilmore) and a potential three-headed monster in the backfield, and Flacco may have the most offensive weapons he's ever had.
"And he is being protected by a franchise left tackle for the first time in his career," Hensley wrote.
The Ravens' No. 6 overall pick, Ronnie Stanley, is a potential game-changer as Flacco tries to overcome the mental hurdles related to his injury. In 81 snaps of preseason action, Stanley didn't allow a single sack or quarterback hit, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). The most he's given up is two quarterback hurries.
"Offensive tackles rarely grade well from Day 1 – Ronnie Stanley looks like he can," wrote PFF's Sam Monson. "So far, Stanley has [looked like a seasoned vet](https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-10-biggest-takeaways-from-the-2016-preseason/?utmsource=Media Contacts&utmcampaign=7f12264a82-Mailchimp RSS EmailRavens&utmmedium=email&utmterm=034bbbdf664-7f12264a82-83851589)."
Then there's Flacco himself, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with all the tools.
He put in the grueling work to return to the field on the first day of training camp, and if it weren't for the red non-contact jersey and large knee brace, nobody would have even known he was injured. His teammates said he looked the same from the start, and former Ravens and current Bills safety Corey Graham told media this week that he was "amazed" by some of the throws he's seen Flacco make.
"You look at some of the old film from the past and then the game from the preseason, you're still looking at him and he's doing the same thing," Graham said.
Dr. Luga Podesta, a former team doctor for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, told The Baltimore Sun's Don Markus that most athletes returning from major knee surgery are ready "functionally" after six months.
"Psychologically it takes a little longer," Podesta said. "An ACL injury is a huge injury for an athlete. The rehabilitation is very intense and demanding at times. It's difficult to get through it. A lot of these guys have never been hurt before, always in the back of their minds, it's 'Can I come back from this?' It's really trying to prove that they can come back and play."
Not only will he prove he can still play, but he'll prove he can do it at a Pro Bowl level, according to Hensley.
Ravens Tried To Trade Tyrod Taylor Before He Hit Free Agency
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh always knew the value Tyrod Taylor could bring as a starting quarterback. That's why he wished he could keep Taylor "forever," but knew that wasn't realistic.
So, Harbaugh tried to get something for Taylor before he hit the street in 2015 as a free agent.
"There were times when I was hoping we could find a way to trade him and get something back of value," Harbaugh told Buffalo media Wednesday. "That never materialized. It usually doesn't, so it was a hope on my part. But I felt like there was no question in my mind he was going to be a starter."
In the video below, Taylor confirmed he "heard things" about a potential trade. And it shouldn't come as any surprise that the person interested is his current Bills head coach. Only, at the time of that potential trade, Taylor would have been shipped to the New York Jets because that's where Rex Ryan was coaching.
Elvis Dumervil's Absence Limits Pass Rush, Puts More Pressure On Terrell Suggs
The much-anticipated return of the monster pass-rushing duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil is going to have to wait. Dumervil announced Wednesday that he won't play in Sunday's season-opening game because of a setback he suffered while rehabbing from an offseason foot-area procedure.
"That's huge," CBS Baltimore's Samuel Njoku tweeted. "Severely limits pass rush."
Suggs and Dumervil are at their best when on the field together. Dumervil collected just six sacks last year with Suggs out for the season, but notched a franchise record 17 in 2014 when they were both healthy. Together, they formed the most dangerous NFL pass-rushing tandem that year with a combined 29 sacks.
The Ravens will have to adjust as the dangerously-elusive Taylor comes to town.
"Dumervil's absence puts more pressure on returning veteran Terrell Suggs while thrusting young outside linebackers Za'Darius Smith and Matthew Judon into more significant pass-rushing snaps," wrote WNST's Luke Jones.
It's not an ideal scenario for Suggs as he tries to prove that he has plenty in the tank at 33 years old and coming off the second Achilles injury of his career.
Dumervil declined to give a specific timetable for his return, but he took to Twitter to ease fans' concerns, saying he'll be back "soon."
Rex Ryan: Ed Reed May Be A Head Coach Within Five Years
If Suggs thinks it will be weird to see former teammate Ed Reed in his role as an assistant defensive backs coach, he'll really be wigged out if Ryan's prediction comes true.
"Within a five-year period, he may be one of those guys that becomes a head coach," Ryan told Baltimore media Wednesday. "He has that in him. He's the Pied Piper. People follow him. He's so knowledgeable and so respected that I truly believe he's going to do a lot of great things as a coach in this league."
I'm gonna join Suggs and say that would be a weird sight to see. We're used to seeing Ed Reed, the Pro Bowler, make a living off intercepting quarterbacks, suiting up for the purple and black.
"It's going to be weird to see Superman in street clothes," Suggs said. "I guess he's Clark Kent now."
But in his Clark Kent role, Suggs isn't worried about Reed using his years of experience to pick off Flacco. There's a big difference between being on the field and trying to teach the Bills defensive backs how to be the ball-hawk safety that Reed was.
"If he was lining up, I would be a little concerned," Suggs said. "But there's only one Ed Reed. No matter how you coach it, not matter how you line it up, there's only one Ed Reed."
The NFL Keeps Getting Younger, And Harbaugh Says It's A Problem
There's a statistic that Football Outsiders tracks called "snap-weighted age." Basically, it averages the age of the players on the field based on snaps.
Last year, the league hit an all-time young mark since keeping track of the stat for the last decade. The league's snap-weighted age was 26.6 years old, down from 27.2 in 2006.
"This is a real serious concern," Harbaugh told TheRinger.com's Kevin Clark. "Not just for the quality of the game, but for the well-being of these young guys coming into the NFL.
"Everything from defensive linemen not knowing where their eyes should be looking, not knowing where blocks are coming from. Defensive backs not recognizing routes, not knowing how to burst, stop, start, and change direction so they don't tear their ACLs. Offensive linemen not knowing where blitzers are coming from. Just not a lot of technique anywhere."
Apparently Harbaugh isn't the only one who is concerned. Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy and Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis gave similar quotes to Harbaugh's, and there are others.
"It's rare for NFL coaches and executives to agree en masse on anything, but these days, nearly all of them seem to be fretting about a new and game-changing trend," Clark wrote.
The NFL's age problem doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, per the report. Rookies are "flooding" the league and teams are using them more and more over veterans because of the cost-effective rookie deals. Coaches also say the younger talent is less prepared because of offseason practice restrictions set forth by the collective bargaining agreement. Roster limits and other factors also play into the issue.
"It's just a fact, you have to continue to load your team with younger players, in hopes they are ready to go and ready to play productive football," Lewis said. "And yet, they are staying less in college, the rules are prohibitive, and [college] coaches are spending less time with players in college. The process from the bottom-up is shrunk, and you have to try to move them forward as quickly as you can."
Read the nearly 3,000-word feature here.
Oral History Of '96 Ravens
Yahoo! Sports' Eric Edholm wrote a detailed oral history of the Ravens' inaugural 1996 season after then-Owner Art Modell brought the franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore. Edholm interviewed more than 30 people who witnessed the event, including Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta, David Modell and Eric Mangini.
"[L]ittle did the people involved in that inaugural 4-12 season of 1996 know it then, but the team that had a shoddy defense, a third-rate facility, a crumbling stadium (with an elevator that stopped in the middle of a game) and a healthy dose of bad luck that season was less than five years away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy," Edholm wrote.
"Buoyed by an incredible staff that featured six future head coaches and four future general managers, they engineered the greatest first-round drafting ever – picking eventual Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis – and weathered the storm to build a Super Bowl team and one of the most enviable and stable NFL franchises. From the craziness of Cleveland to the improbability of Baltimore, here is the long-forgotten maiden voyage of the 1996 Baltimore Ravens – on their 20th anniversary – through the words of more than 30 people who watched it unfold."