For the Pittsburgh Steelers’ division-rival Baltimore Ravens, the biggest question they may be facing this season is what sort of quarterback they will be getting back in 2016. It wasn’t so long ago that Joe Flacco helped lead the Ravens to their second Super Bowl championship. But his play has been inconsistent, and he suffered a torn ACL—the first notable injury of his career—10 games into the 2015 season.
Last season, during his 10 games, Flacco completed a career-high 64.4 percent of his 413 passes (266 completions in all), throwing for 2791 yards with a 6.8 yards per pass attempt average. The last figure is on the lower end of the spectrum, as was his 14 touchdowns, the fewest since his rookie season. He nearly equaled that with 12 interceptions.
In spite of the fact that he saw his season come to an end after taking a particularly ugly sack, he was actually protected fairly well, going down for just 16 sacks in total during his playing time. He and his mobility, of course, play a role in that. He also recorded three rushing touchdowns in 2015.
The Ravens obviously struggled last season whether Flacco was on the field or not. They won just five games, including a pair of baffling victories over the Steelers, one during which Pittsburgh was without their quarterback, the other—well, fairly inexplicable.
Offensively, they put up just 20.5 points per game, which ranked 25th in the league, even if they managed to post the eighth-highest passing yards per game figure in the league, with an average of 267 yards per game.
Flacco may soon learn, as Ben Roethlisberger has, that he will not always have an exceptional defense to win the games in which you only score 20 points. That is the next step that Baltimore’s front office is counting on the 31-year old to take, but which certainly seems far from guaranteed. While he had his best offensive season in 2014 with 27 touchdown passes and just a hair under 4000 yards passing and a quarterback rating of 91, things have changed since then.
They lost Torrey Smith in free agency, for starters, as their tight end position depth also began to unravel. The Ravens were counting upon their young first-round wide receiver, Breshad Perriman, to be a major contributor, perhaps being immediately inserted into the starting lineup, but he missed the entire year due to injury.
Also missing most of the season was Steve Smith, who went on injured reserve after seven games. The misfortune of his season so struck him that he decided to reverse his previous decision to retire upon the conclusion of the 2015 season.
Perhaps with both Smith back and Perriman contributing—and second-year tight end Maxx Williams continuing to evolve—Flacco will have the arsenal that he needs to carry the Ravens’ offense to where it needs to be to stave off their defensive regression. But much of that will have to do with how he himself performs, not only speaking generally, but also as he returns from a serious knee injury.