Joe Flacco in a good place right now

Joe Cool has become Comfortable Joe.

Throughout the years, there is one picture of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco etched in the minds of every fan. It's the one where Flacco sits on the bench after a failed series with a blank look on his face.

He talks to no one, and doesn't even look at game photos. As teammates walk by, Flacco continues to stare into the abyss.

That doesn't happen any longer.

Because of a new coordinator, position coach, blocking scheme and running game, Flacco's completion numbers and passing yards are up and his interceptions and sack totals are down.

Now when he comes off the field after a series, the seventh-year veteran out of the University of Delaware absorbs endless amounts of information from teammates and assistant coaches.

"I think he has improved my game a lot," Flacco said of new coordinator Gary Kubiak. "He's made things black and white. There is a right and there is a wrong. He's given me a clear picture which allows me to go out there and play fast and have confidence that I am making the right decision."

After four games this season, Flacco has completed 97 of 153 passes for 1,055 yards and seven touchdowns. He has thrown just two interceptions and has been sacked three times.

That's quite an improvement over a year ago. Back then, Flacco completed 97 of 199 passes for 1,091 yards and five touchdowns after four games. He also had seven interceptions and was sacked 12 times.

One of the major reasons for the turnaround is that Flacco appears to really like Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison.

What's not to like?

Flacco and a previous offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, didn't always get along and Jim Caldwell, the coordinator last season, coached from a booth near the press box area.

Kubiak, who coached Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana, Steve Young and John Elway, coaches on the field. When Flacco comes off the field, they go face-to-face.

"Jim was up in the box so I talked to him on the phone a lot. Gary is down on the field so I go over the play drive with him right away," Flacco said. "A lot of the time when we are sitting there he is talking with the coaches and going over what they saw. And seeing that the picture that we are looking at matches up with the one in the booth.

"We're talking about what we can do on the next drive to take advantage of some of the coverages they are playing. That's the kind of thing I like. He's always looking to see what we can do later in the game to take advantage of what the secondary is playing."

In years past, Flacco sometimes held the ball too long. In training camp, the Ravens emphasized footwork and a quick release, and making sure Flacco planted his back foot before throwing.

The West Coast offense is predicated on short passes, so Flacco was forced to make quick reads and decisions, which has always been a strength. But Flacco might be getting more freedom to check in and out of plays than under his two former coordinators.

"He puts it on the quarterback to get it out of his hands and to see if somebody is coming," Flacco said. "It forces you to play that way because that's what you are supposed to do. He believes that it should be on the quarterback's shoulders. Nobody else should really have to worry about that stuff.

"I think it forces me to do it because it's all on me and the success of the play really comes down to me at the end of the day in terms of getting the ball out and being hot."

Another reason for Flacco's fast start has been the improved play of the offensive line. The Ravens were hurt in 2013 by injuries to left guard Kelechi Osemele (back) and right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), but both have been healthy so far.

Kubiak and Dennison also gutted, and then inserted, a new blocking scheme during the off season, one built for a downhill running game and featuring more combination blocks.

After four games last season, the Ravens had just 256 yards rushing on 97 attempts. This year they have rushed 119 times for 538 yards in four games. There is so much more balance now — the Ravens have thrown 153 passes compared to 119 rushing attempts.

Flacco hasn't been sacked since the season opener against Cincinnati.

"Again, I'm not going to go back and compare it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of the differences from the previous years. "There are so many things that are different, it would be too hard to put it in a nutshell and do it justice. We're doing things better across the board. Some of it is Joe getting the ball out, too."

Flacco certainly has better touch these days. In the past he struggled with knowing when to throw hard as opposed to lofting it. A lot of his longer passes downfield have been right on the finger tips of his receivers.

Accuracy is still a problem, but no where near as glaring as in the past.

"Joe is a great player," said Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, a former Ravens defensive coordinator. "I was fortunate to be on the same side with him for four years and watched him win a bunch of football games [playing] at a high, high level.

"[He has] all the arm talent in the world [and] makes great decisions. They're doing a great job with him. They obviously have got him comfortable in a hurry in that system."

Flacco said the best might be still to come. Receiver Steve Smith has been hot, but the Ravens have to get receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones more involved.

"I do feel really comfortable with it," Flacco said. "I think we all do as a group. I think I have since the very beginning but like I said, we're four games in and it's tough to be 100 percent where you want to be. Having said that I think we are doing a great job executing the fundamentals and the base part of the offense, and if we continue to improve, we will like where we're at the end of the season."

Right now, there are few who will disagree.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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