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Senior NFL Columnist

After Further Review: Flacco's money plays in Super Bowl XLVII

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The question isn't whether Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is elite -- that's yet to be determined -- but whether he deserves to be among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL.

His performance in the playoffs, and especially in Super Bowl XLVII, makes a heck of an argument that he should be.

Is he Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning? Not quite. But his play last Sunday in the Ravens' 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers puts him in the group just below those guys.

I thought Flacco was impressive against the 49ers when I watched live. It was even better after studying the tape.

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He made the right reads. He never seemed to panic. He had a great feel in the pocket. It was his moment, and he made the most of it.

There were big throws. There were smart throws. There were accurate throws. And there were even great decisions being made.

The Ravens might not pay him the $20 million per year he is said to want, but the Super Bowl shows that this could be the start of something truly special for Flacco.

Here's a look at some of the things he did that really impressed from the Super Bowl in several categories.

Touch

The first play we'll look at it is his first touchdown to Anquan Boldin, which shows his touch. That was a timing throw that Flacco put on the money.

At the snap, Flacco looked to his left to move the defense that way, all the while knowing that he had Boldin (red circle) on an inside move to the goal post. Boldin ran hard inside against linebacker NaVorro Bowman, and Bowman took a step to his right. Boldin then cut quickly up the field and had Bowman beat. Flacco saw that and fired a shot to the end zone. He had to throw it as Boldin was even with Bowman, all the while realizing safety Donte Whitner was coming over. It meant the throw had to be precise -- and it was to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead.




Patience

The next throw we'll look at is a big 23-yard throw to tight end Ed Dickson. On the play, Dickson was lined up in-line on the right (red circle). He ran across the field against the 49ers zone. Torrey Smith (yellow circle) ran a deep in route to help clear out the area.

You can see by the third picture that Flacco could have taken a shot to Smith, who was also open. But he waited for Dickson to clear the underneath coverage -- showing his patience -- and he hit him for the big gain. In the past, Flacco might have committed to the big play down the field -- risking the safety coming over -- but he instead waited for Dickson to come free.




Pre-snap decision-making

A big play in the game came after the 49ers cut the lead to two in the fourth quarter. The Ravens needed to get something going. So Flacco made an easy throw to Boldin for a 30-yard gain, with the decision making it easy.

The Ravens lined up Boldin (red circle) and Smith (yellow circle) together on the right side against 49ers corners Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver. At the snap, Smith took an outside release against Rogers and appeared as if he might run to the sideline. But he instead ran straight. Boldin looked like he was going to pick for Smith, but instead ran inside and then made a hard cut to the outside. That enabled Smith to pick off Rogers and Culliver, leaving Boldin wide open. Flacco knew that would be the case at the snap, showing his feel for the offense, and fired a strike to Boldin, who turned it up for a 30-yard gain.

Pre-snap decision-making is a must for big-time passers. Flacco showed that off on that play.



Pocket feel

Climbing the pocket is something all good quarterbacks have to be able to do. When the pressure surrounds them, the easiest way to make big plays is to move up in the pocket and let that pressure go by. Flacco did just that on the 56-yard touchdown throw to Jacoby Jones before the half.

Here's a look at that play. Jones was lined up outside of Boldin on the right side. Boldin had press-man coverage against Rogers. Jones had off-man against Culliver. Dashon Goldson was over the top to help. At the snap, Boldin ran an inside route and Jones ran a post route. Goldson appeared to take a step up against Boldin -- why, I don't know, since he was covered well -- and Jones ran by Culliver, who appeared to think he would have Goldson deep. Flacco read it perfectly, stepped up into the pocket and ripped a throw to Jones, who gathered it in, fell to the ground, got up and ran in for a big score.

As you can see from the pictures below, Flacco (black circle) did a great job of moving up in the pocket to create the room to make the throw.




First two of Flacco in pocket, last one of Jones open

Command and confidence

Facing third-and-1 at the Baltimore 46 in the fourth quarter with a two-point lead, Flacco had the power to check out of a run to a pass. That's exactly what he did, even though the box was favorable for the Ravens. That's big-time confidence.

As you can see from the first picture below, the 49ers had a seven-man box against a three-receiver, one tight end set. That would normally mean run in a third-and-short situation. But Flacco checked to a pass to Boldin (red circle) in man coverage against Culliver. Flacco fired a bullet and Boldin made a great catch for a big first down that led to a field goal that made it a five-point lead.



So, you see, Flacco did a lot of the things that elite quarterbacks need to do. And that's without focusing on his powerful arm, which we all know he has. That's the difference in this Flacco from years past. He does all the little things the great ones do. He's not just the guy who can stick any throw. His mind has caught up to his arm.

Film study

1. 49ers fans will complain about the non-call on San Francisco's fourth-and-goal play until next season -- and maybe beyond. But the reality is that Colin Kaepernick missed touchdown throws on second and third down that would have put the 49ers ahead. Here's a look at both.

The first one came on second down when he rolled to his right. He tried to fit a ball into Michael Crabtree, but it was broken up. As you can see by the red circle he had Randy Moss wide open in the middle of the field. That would have been a tough throw moving to his right, but he has the arm to make it.


The second miss came on third down when he predetermined where he was going with the football. Crabtree (yellow circle) ran in motion before the snap from left to right and Kaepernick was going to him the entire way. If he looked up for a second, he would have spotted Delanie Walker (red circle) wide open at the goal line for the go-ahead score.



Next year, Kaepernick makes those reads. But with 10 starts, it's a lot to ask of the quarterback.

2. How did Jones rip the second-half kickoff 108 yards? Two of the big reasons can be seen in the pictures below. The first is two Ravens players holding 49ers fullback Bruce Miller (blue circle), preventing him from getting over to make the play. The second is a bad play by 49ers coverage player Tramaine Brock. Pictured in the yellow circle, he should have taken an inside path against his blocker. Instead, he jumped to the outside to help create the big lane for Jones to sprint through. There should have been a penalty, but Brock didn't help it with his jump to the outside.



3. The 49ers griped a lot about the non-call on Crabtree, but they got away with two big non-calls on a big Ravens third-and-goal from the 1 late in the game. The Ravens called for a pass, and tried to sneak tight end Dennis Pitta into the flat on the end zone. But he was mugged by Bowman, and couldn't get out. That forced Flacco to scramble to his left and when he threw it away, he took a shot out of bounds from Isaac Sopoaga that could have easily been a personal foul. Here's a look at both non-calls.




Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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