By: Brandon Deffet (@im_deff)
With each second that passes by, Joe Flacco puts more distance between himself and the ACL tear he suffered in November of the 2015 season. It's been over a full calendar year now, and Joe has put in a full regular season of work since recovering from the injury. Although last season didn't go exactly as planned, and his sliding skills seem to have regressed a bit, I believe the Ravens can consider it a victory that he finished the season without missing a single meaningful snap in the 16 games that he started.
This is the kind of durabilty the Ravens were used to getting out of Flacco, as he had never missed a start since being drafted by Baltimore in 2008. That all adds up to 122 straight starts, folks. More importantly, it was during this span that he notched 10 playoff wins, including a Super Bowl victory to finish the 2012 season.
There were plenty of times during the 2016 season that we saw Flacco throwing off his back foot, while hesitating to step up into the pocket, and into his throws. This was especially present early on in games. Now we can't be surprised that there was some hesitation with the knee and a some rust to knock off when we're talking about a quarterback coming back from an ACL injury. Keeping that in mind, we also can't be surprised when this same quarterback is suddenly asked to throw the football a career-high 672 times, and it doesn't exactly end all that well.
There were times in the latter half of the season were he began to start stepping up through traffic, and consistently keeping his eyes downfield.
The most gorgeous example of this resurgence was the 34-yard touchdown pass he threaded to Steve Smith Sr. in the week 15 matchup against the Eagles this past December. He looked confident in the pocket. There was pressure from both sides on the play, and he didn't flinch at all. He kept his eyes downfield. He gave the safety a quick pump fake, and then slung an absolute dime right over Steve's head and into his hands. It was without a doubt, Flacco's best all-around pass play of the season.
Oh and don't worry, I wouldn't talk this much about a play and not show it to you guys. Here's a video of the play from the NFL's official YouTube channel:
I remember at that exact moment, all my worries about Flacco not being able to get his confidence and footwork back from all the time spent rehabbing his knee completely vanished. Playoffs were still on the line at that point, and seeing him be able to deliver a play like that set me at ease in a way.
I wont ignore the fact that Steve Smith retired, Kamar Aiken signed with the Indianapolis Colts, and that the Ravens didn't draft a wide receiver in the 2017 NFL Draft. While I do believe that Ozzie is going to sign a veteran receiver before the season begins, the lack of a physical possession receiver could negatively impact Flacco.
On a more positive note, a huge difference between this upcoming season and the last one is that Flacco is now healthy at the start of offseason workouts and will be a full-go for training camp. Getting the time to work with his offense and knock off any remaining rust is something that I think will make all the difference for his rhythm and mechanics.
Joe wore a brace on his knee throughout the season last year, and says he plans to wear it again this season. He assures everyone that he knows he could play comfortably without it, and after seeing him run for a few first downs, I think I believe him. Here's to hoping he views it as more or less a part of his uniform at this point.
In the end, our perrenially scrutinized quarterback has to clear both the physical and mental hurdles that come with serious lower body injuries in order to completely put this thing behind him for good. I don't think there's any question that he's cleared the physical hurdle, but has he cleared the mental one? I think we're just going to have to wait and see. Until then, my friends, make sure to keep your fingers crossed, and to wear your new Danny Woodhead jerseys everyday.