Joe Flacco has been a leader and a key cog for the Baltimore Ravens throughout his career. Now, he is the face of the franchise. In a steady locker room like the one in Baltimore, though, that designation means practically nothing.
With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed out of the picture, the Ravens will be missing some of their biggest names in 2013. Some in the media mistakenly thought this would eliminate the veteran leadership in Baltimore, but they have failed to account for guys like Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice and, of course, Flacco.
Listen to what some of his teammates have had to say about their quarterback. Ray Rice protested when Flacco was named just the 19th-best player in the NFL. Terrell Suggs has defended Flacco numerous times on ESPN's First Take. There is no question: Flacco is respected as the franchise quarterback in Baltimore.
Even so, Flacco is not above the team, despite his status as franchise quarterback and now as "face of the franchise." In face, that phrase will hold practically no weight in Baltimore. Flacco will be counted on as a leader, just as he always has been. He will be counted on to produce offense, just as he always has been, and that's just the way Flacco would have it.
In reality, the shift in consciousness has occurred in the media, not in Baltimore.
The media will have heightened expectations for Flacco after his brilliant playoff run. Maybe Flacco won't be able to maintain his torrid playoff pace, but he will be expected to match the top guys in stats like passing efficiency, touchdowns and, of course, wins. As the face of the franchise, the media will expect Flacco to be the most prominent offensive weapon in Baltimore.
In those regards, Flacco could be in store for a disappointing season. With Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce as red-zone weapons, Flacco's touchdown totals will never approach those of guys like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or even the pass-happy Matthew Stafford. Maybe expect more than the 22 touchdowns Flacco threw last season, but don't expect world-beating numbers. That's just not Flacco's game. Lewis' retirement doesn't change that.
In fact, Flacco could throw fewer passes than ever this season with the dual-headed monster of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce carrying the offense. Last season saw Flacco throw 531 passes, while the duo of Rice and Pierce carried the ball 365 times. Those numbers should be closer together this season, which will disappoint those looking for Flacco to experience a breakout season as the face of the franchise.
Really, the Ravens' offense won't change much and neither will Flacco. He will continue to be mercurial, occasionally baffling, occasionally brilliant while the Ravens emphasize their rushing attack. Flacco's new fame and reputation won't change that.
As meaningless as the term might be to the Ravens' franchise, we could still see some changes in Flacco's game.
First of all, Flacco's efficiency should rise this season. He has a great relationship with new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell that resulted in some obscene passing stats in the playoffs, including his record 11:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Flacco feels more comfortable reading defenses and changing calls at the line under Caldwell, and that should result in an uptick in yards per attempt, completion percentage and overall passer rating.
Similarly, with the weight of winning a championship lifted off his shoulders, Flacco should be more confident and relaxed than ever. He is very much a rhythm quarterback, occasionally stringing together long stretches of completions, occasionally completely losing his touch. Those low moments should happen less with a more confident Flacco, and that should result in a more consistent, efficient performance this season.
To us in the fanbase and the media, Flacco is the face of the franchise. It's a useful designation that explains Flacco's leadership role on and off the field. He can embrace that role, knowing full well that his status in Baltimore hasn't changed. He is still a leader, an offensive spark and a respected teammate. That's enough for Flacco, and last season proved that that's enough for the Ravens to be champions. - Shawn Brubaker | Yahoo!