Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been the target of criticism for much of his career. And while he may not be in the same conversation as the NFL's elite passers, he has started every game since joining the league in 2008. In his first five seasons, Flacco led Baltimore to at least nine wins and annual playoff appearances, which culminated in a Feb. 2013 Super Bowl win over the 49ers in a game where Flacco -- you guessed it -- earned MVP honors.
But the Ravens slipped to 8-8 last season and as often happens, the buck stopped with him, even though the offense line was inconsistent, the running game was in shambles, and Flacco was without his favorite target, tight end Dennis Pitta, for all but four games.
Usually, complaints about Flacco are contained to the regular season but now critics are unhappy with his offseason activities too. Specifically: the Ravens' quarterback hasn't organized workouts with his receivers, a fact that has come up in the media but that the team's best pass catcher, Torrey Smith, doesn't have a problem with.
"You all [in the media] keep talking about this and [criticizing] Joe like he doesn't want to get together or something like that,” Smith said over the weekend, according to BaltimoreRavens.com. “We've been trying to figure it out, but people have to realize, [Kyle Juszczyk] is in school, Marlon [Brown] is in school. Steve [Smith] is still being a parent down there [Carolina]. Pitta is fine. Aaron [Mellette] isn't all the way back yet. If we really go out there and throw, it's going to be, Steve, Pitta and Jacoby. That's it.”
Seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation, and something that probably wouldn't have come up last offseason, in the weeks and months after the Ravens won a championship. But a .500 season that featured plenty of uninspiring football -- on offense and defense -- typically leads to more second-guessing.
This doesn't surprise Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, who has a simple explanation for the phenomenon, at least as it pertains to talk radio, where Flacco has come under fire: “Listen, those guys are paid to give opinions and they are put on the air dozens of hours a week,” he said recently (via PFT). “I guess they get tired of saying the same thing.”
Flacco completed 59 percent of his passes in 2013, and threw 19 touchdowns against 22 interceptions. According to Football Outsiders, Flacco ranked 35th in total value among all NFL quarterbacks, just ahead of Thad Lewis, EJ Manuel and Eli Manning.
No matter where the blame lies, that type of production for a guy who signed a six-year, $$120 million deal last offseason will invariably lead to criticism. Of course, if the Ravens get off to a hot start in 2014, no one will remember any of this.