BALTIMORE – Joe Flacco is Brandon Weeden’s best-case scenario.
The premise may seem absurd considering Weeden is 5-11 as a starter with seven interceptions in two season openers and a career 70.3 rating.
Flacco, for comparison’s sake, is 10-0 against the Browns, has won a playoff game in each of his five seasons, was Super Bowl MVP in February and rewarded with a six-year, $120 million contract.
But when then-president Mike Holmgren and then-general manager Tom Heckert drafted Weeden, they had Flacco in mind. Flacco’s big (6-foot-6), sturdy (232 pounds) and likes to stand in the pocket and take advantage of his strong arm by slinging the ball downfield. Weeden is tall (6-3), can take a hit (220 pounds) and has a similar arm and the same style of attack.
“I think there are some similarities there,” Weeden said. “He’s a big guy with a big arm. He extends the ball. He’s got Torrey Smith and guys to throw it to and he’s got one thing that I don’t have -- playoffs and all of those things. Yeah, he’s a good player and if I can model my game after that, it would be a good one.”
Weeden’s teammates haven’t seen enough big plays and wins from Weeden to put him in the same category as Flacco. But they see potential.
“Both of them can make all the throws,” cornerback Joe Haden said.
“They’re very patient in the pocket, they don’t seem to get rattled,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “I’ve always said this about Flacco, he’s probably the best deep-ball thrower I’ve played against. And Brandon, I’ve never seen him underthrow a guy. If you want to compare the two, that’s the one thing that jumped out at me.”
It’s been well-established this is a pivotal year in Weeden’s career. If he doesn’t convince the decision-makers he can be a winning quarterback, he won’t get a third year to prove it.
That’s where the similarities with Flacco stop. Flacco was 23 years old when he was the No. 18 pick in 2008. Weeden was 28 as the No. 22 pick last year.
The Ravens committed to Flacco as the franchise quarterback they had been desperate to find. The former Browns regime thought Weeden was an upgrade over Colt McCoy and took a flyer. The new regime has nothing invested but the time it gives Weeden this year.
The patience of the Ravens’ front office with Flacco was obvious, if unusual in today’s NFL of snap decisions at the position, and rewarded. He put up pedestrian stats in three of his first four years, but was propped up by a dominant defense and reliable running game and showed enough potential for the Ravens to ignore any outside criticism. Flacco declared himself elite last season and proved it with a staggering end-of-season run (13 touchdowns, zero interceptions, 113.9 rating in his final six games) that climaxed with a 287-yard, three-touchdown, 124.2-rating Super Bowl.
“They’ve done a great job in Baltimore of making sure he’s been the guy, no matter what,” Jackson said. “The outside attention has been on changing quarterbacks, but Baltimore’s focus has always been on Joe Flacco as the quarterback.
“He went into a great situation, but he actually won when I don’t think they were as good on defense. A lot of credit goes to Flacco. If they don’t have Flacco, they don’t go to the Super Bowl.”
Flacco has arrived where every quarterback strives to be. Yet he finds Weeden’s situation desirable -- from afar.
“It’s a cool position he’s in, to be on a team that has a lot of potential and really hasn’t had a ton of wins in the last couple years,” Flacco said on a conference call with Browns reporters. “But when you’re in that position you can be the guy and you can be confident. If he can continue to do that, then he can get his team going in the other direction and that’s pretty special when you can do that as a quarterback.
“I think he’s got all the tools to do that. I think he’s a guy that makes good decisions, he’s accurate, he can make a couple plays outside of the pocket if need be.”
With the recent infatuation of the read-option and the fleet-footed quarterbacks that can run it, some would suggest the throwers who like to make plays from the pocket belong in a museum. You could almost forget Flacco won the latest Super Bowl, if not for the pregame ceremony today to honor the champs in their home opener.
“I think a lot of these teams run the zone read and they’ll gradually get away from it,” Flacco said. “I think those guys want to be back there and throwing the ball and I think the offenses they run are just a way of creating a lot of space and open field both in the passing game and the running game. I think you’ll see those teams kind of get away from running the ball so much with the quarterback just because of the long-term health risks of the whole thing.”
“The zone read’s for a few guys in this league,” Weeden said. “They’re not going to ask Peyton (Manning) or Tom (Brady) or any of those guys to do it, it just doesn’t fit their skill set. And even the guys who can run around have to stand in there, and they know that.
“Absolutely, it gives you confidence that this offense has a track record of being very successful.”
Weeden’s first game in coordinator Norv Turner’s vertical passing scheme was more like a disaster. Weeden went 26-for-53 for 289 yards with a touchdown, three interceptions and a 48.4 rating. He was sacked six times, hit 10 more and managed only 10 points.
The good news is every team in the AFC North lost and the Ravens’ once-impenetrable defense was shredded for 49 points – the most ever against it – an NFL-record-tying seven touchdown passes and a league-worst 510 yards against Denver.
“I’d give a lot of credit to Peyton Manning on that,” center Alex Mack said.
The Baltimore defense is in transition following the retirement of inside linebacker Ray Lewis and the departure through free agency of safety Ed Reed, outside linebacker Paul Kruger (to the Browns) and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. But pass rusher Terrell Suggs remains and was joined by Elvis Dumervil on the other side. Tackle Haloti Ngata still clogs the middle.
The Ravens can’t be overlooked. They’ve allowed only 15.1 points per game and a 66.8 quarterback rating at home under coach John Harbaugh, who’s 10-0 vs. the Browns.
Weeden lost both meetings with Baltimore last year, going 45-for-89 for 496 yards and three interceptions.
“I still think they are a very, very good football team,” Weeden said. “Defensively they create a lot of problems. They’re very good.”
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