Can Joe Flacco produce the kind of hot streak that carried the Ravens through last year's playoffs? Flacco's sublime postseason, one of the best produced by any quarterback in NFL history, helped land him a $120.6 million contract in the offseason. But it also created unrealistic expectations that he would suddenly be a different quarterback than the guy we watched in past regular seasons. In reality, Flacco is much the same guy. He's incredibly durable. He's unafraid to throw boldly in tight spots. And every so often, he plays a cringeworthy game. Many of his struggles this year make perfect sense. Flacco has not thrown deep as often or as accurately as he did last season. But that's in part because Torrey Smith has had to take on a more varied receiving role and in part because Flacco's other favorite deep threat, Jacoby Jones, missed the better part of five games with a knee injury. The awful running game has also been a culprit here. The easiest way to set up a deep throw is off play-action, but play-action can't work as well if the run doesn't present a realistic threat to the defense. Flacco recently said it himself: The Ravens have to run better on first and second down to set up the rest of their offense. There are reasons to think Flacco will play better down the stretch than he has so far. He has developed a better rapport with tight end Clark and receivers Marlon Brown and Tandon Doss. Jones is healthy. Dennis Pitta, Flacco's safety blanket, might return from a hip injury in November. Even so, Flacco might never again play four straight games as good as the ones he played in January. That's just reality, given his broader track record and the history of NFL quarterback play. This needn't be viewed as a criticism. He's plenty good enough.
Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun
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