Jacoby Jones pauses for an instant, briefly contemplating his answer.

A moment later, a big, almost mischievous-looking grin spreads across Jones' face.


Like the rest of his Baltimore Ravens offensive teammates, Jones has received the same questions about quarterback Joe Flacco for much of the last month and a half since the beginning of training camp.

How does Flacco look? What kind of year is he in store for? How has he improved going into his fifth season? Will this finally be the season that Flacco finally breaks through and establishes himself among the NFL's elite?

Yet, even after more than a month of those questions and with the beginning of the season now right around the corner, Jones' answers come with as much genuine excitement as ever.

The Ravens begin their season tonight against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"Man, the sky's the limit for Joe," said a still smiling Jones, shaking his head back and forth while talking. "The things they've got lined up for him are going to be great to watch. They've got a lot of great things lined up for this guy to do."

Flacco has shown glimpses of his potential before.

He threw three touchdowns in a blowout of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in last year's season opener. He racked up a career-best 389 yards and three scores in guiding a romp of the St. Louis Rams just two weeks later. And maybe most impressively, he passed for 306 yards and two touchdowns during Baltimore's loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game in January, a game which he may have received even more credit for if not for Lee Evans dropping a potential game-winning touchdown and Billy Cundiff missing a short field goal that would've likely sent the game to overtime.

Flacco has thrown for 3,600 yards or more and 20 scores or more during each of the last three seasons.

Yet, for all of his success, there have also been bumps in the road. His performances in last year's losses against the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars stick out as prime examples.

However, it's been impossible not to notice a different Flacco leading up to his fifth NFL season. Albeit during just training camp and the preseason, the strong armed 6-foot-6, 245-pound signal caller has looked as calm, confident and in command of the Ravens' offense as he has at any point during his NFL career.

"Joe's playing great," said second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith. "I think Joe could have a great year. He's done everything he can to put himself in position for it, and it's on us [as pass-catchers] to play at a high level. He's definitely playing at a high level right now, and it's on us to match that and be consistent, making plays when needs us, and getting Joe the respect he deserves."

Tonight's season opener will give Flacco and Baltimore's offense a prime opportunity to begin earning that respect.

Coming off a stellar showing against the Jaguars in his final preseason appearance, Flacco will look for an equally solid performance against a Bengals defense that has legitimate concerns about its secondary heading into the season.

Cincinnati's pass defense ranked ninth-best in the NFL last year, but top cornerback Leon Hall is just nine months removed from surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, fellow starter Nate Clements is an aging player that many think would be a better fit at safety at this point in his career and first-round pick cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was expected to vie for significant playing time at the position, will miss the early part of the regular season because of a knee injury.


The Bengals' defense will also have to cope with the expected absence of starting defensive end Carlos Dunlap (knee), arguably the team's top pass rusher.

Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis saw the Ravens' offense operate exclusively out of an up-tempo, no-huddle system during the preseason and said that's something the Bengals' defense will have to be prepared for tonight.

"They've been in the spread, their no-huddle type offense, I think with their first group the entire preseason," Lewis said. "[Joe's] done a good job of managing that and seems to be getting them in the place they want to get into."

Lewis offered praise for the weapons around Flacco as well.

The speedy Smith is one of the NFL's blossoming young playmakers, Jones adds another big-play threat and veteran Anquan Boldin remains a physical, sure-handed player that figures to still be a part of the Ravens' offense.

And there's also tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson as well as multi-dimensional running back Ray Rice.

"I just feel, overall, we are growing as an offense," Flacco said. "Our young guys have a lot of experience. They played last year. We just have a lot more experience on our side of the ball. We have a lot of guys that are feeling comfortable with their play and feeling comfortable heading into games and have a lot of confidence. And I think when you have a lot of guys playing with a lot of confidence, that's when you can see good offenses really start to emerge."