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Ravens' decision on Marty Mornhinweg came down to Joe Flacco

Ravens' decision on Marty Mornhinweg came down to Joe Flacco

Don't look now, but Joe Flacco is suddenly the Ravens' $80 million problem.

Yes, Flacco has proved he can be – dare we say it? – elite. He has a Super Bowl ring and shiny Super Bowl MVP car to show for it. But he hasn't played at anything close to an elite level for at least two years, and that's a huge problem for a team that will commit roughly 15 percent of its salary cap to that one player.

And reading between the lines of Tuesday's "State of the Ravens" news conference, Flacco is the biggest reason embattled offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will return in 2017.

At the news conference on Tuesday, owner Steve Bisciotti said what anyone who watched the Ravens in 2016 was thinking: "We’ve seen a better Joe Flacco in the past."

"We need to get more out of Joe," Bisciotti added. "Joe would agree with me, and Joe is committed to making that happen."

One way, apparently, is by continuing to work with Mornhinweg.

Many observers expected Mornhinweg to be jettisoned after the season, as the Ravens showed little offensive improvement after Mornhinweg took over for the fired Marc Trestman.  But Harbaugh announced last week that Mornhinweg would return.

Even Bisciotti admitted in so many words that the Ravens offense this fall was a mess. The running game disappeared, and the Ravens had no semblance of an offensive identity. Flacco threw a team-record 672 passes – one shy of the league lead – but the Ravens ranked 26th in passing yards per play.

"I do not think that we are going to be successful putting the ball in the air 600-and-some times," Bisciotti said. "It is just not our identity, and I do not know how we got that far away from it."

Well here's an answer: They got away from it because Mornhinweg decided to get away from it. He's the one calling the plays. And he'll be doing so again next season.

When asked on Tuesday about the decision to bring Mornhinweg back for another season, Bisciotti said tersely, "My quarterback seems happy with it."

So there it is: The Ravens are all in on Mornhinweg because their $80 million quarterback wants it that way. After all, there probably isn't anyone in the Castle – other than Bisciotti – with more job security than Flacco.

He has a salary cap hit of $24.5 million this year, with more than $47 million in dead money tied up in a contract that still includes more than $80 million in base salary through 2021. Translation: He isn't going anywhere, so if he wants Mornhinweg to return, Mornhinweg returns.

On the one hand, that's understandable: Flacco has been through a revolving door of coordinators, and hasn't even been with Mornhinweg for one full season. Flacco will have an entire offseason of workouts, which he didn't have last year as he  recovered from knee surgery. Mornhinweg has an entire offseason as the coordinator, which he didn't have last year.

Fair point.

But the Ravens are losing one of their go-to receivers in Steve Smith Sr. They could lose the starting right tackle and fullback – a key cog in Mornhinweg's passing game – to free agency. They could lose Flacco's top target in tight end Dennis Pitta as a cap casualty.

Even if most of those players return, Flacco still has to get right. He needs to make better decisions. He needs to fix himself mechanically and get rid of the back-foot floater throws. He needs to get on the same page as his receivers. And oh by the way, the Ravens need at least one more legitimate receiver. General manager Ozzie Newsome said as much on Tuesday.

In other words, there are a whole lot of question marks going into 2017 for the Ravens offense.  The notion that Flacco and Mornhinweg will somehow have this offense purring next fall seems, frankly, wildly optimistic.

But the Ravens have about 80 million reasons to hope and pray that happens.

MORE RAVENS: Ravens owner wants more out of Flacco

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Ravens' John Harbaugh credits early offensive success to Joe Flacco

Ravens' John Harbaugh credits early offensive success to Joe Flacco

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- John Harbaugh has seen Joe Flacco play in more than 170 games for the Ravens, including 15 in the postseason with an MVP effort in the Super Bowl.

Though Baltimore's coach is hard-pressed to remember them all, Harbaugh ranks Flacco's performance against Denver on Sunday among the best.

Flacco went 25 for 40 for 277 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in Baltimore's 27-14 victory . He's put up better numbers during his 11-year career, but this outing stood out because of the fashion in which Flacco zipped the ball short, long and in between.

"He's had a lot of good throwing days, right? But definitely ... it's in the top category," Harbaugh said Monday. "That's what you'd like to see Joe do. I just think it's a combination of a lot of things, including confidence in the guys that he's throwing to."

Harbaugh became Baltimore's head coach in 2008, the same year Flacco entered the NFL. The pair has gone through a lot together, most recently three straight seasons without a playoff appearance.

The Ravens (2-1) hope an improved offense will turn things around.

It's been a long time since Flacco has had so many capable receivers to choose from. Offseason acquisitions Willie Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown have been excellent, and Mark Andrews got into the mix Sunday with 59 yards receiving, a Ravens record for a rookie tight end.

"I'm really pleased with all those guys. They're playing really well and they've made big plays," Harbaugh said.

With Flacco leading the way, the Ravens went 8 for 16 on third down against a team that stopped 17 of 22 attempts in its first two games.

"All the receivers have a good chemistry with Joe," Brown said. "It's all about trust, starting with practice and talking with him to see if we're seeing the same thing. That plays a big part of it."

The Ravens have long been known for their defense, and that unit has played well. But, at least for now, the offense is doing its part, too.

After Denver bolted to a 7-0 lead, Baltimore went the distance on a soothing touchdown drive.

"That was the tone setter for us as a team, to have them answer for us and really get us back to even," safety Eric Weddle said. "And, once we settled down, shoot, defense played lights out."

As did the offense -- again. The Ravens are averaging 32 points per game, and Flacco has completed 82 of 129 passes for 889 yards and six TDs with just two interceptions.

Most impressive of all is Baltimore's performance in the red zone: 12 trips, 12 touchdowns, including 3 for 3 against Denver.

"We've had a good mix. I think we've probably thrown the ball in six times and run the ball in six times," Flacco said. "If you can do both of those things, especially when you get down tight inside the 5-yard line, that helps a lot. We've got good playmakers, and we put a lot of pressure on the defense with the guys that we have out there."

Give credit to the receivers, along with the running back tandem of Alex Collins and Javorius Allen, but Harbaugh knows the real reason why Baltimore has been unstoppable inside the 20.

"It probably starts with Joe," Harbaugh said. "I think Joe has done a great job making plays, making throws, trusting his guys and also extending some plays. That's been big."

The Ravens escaped the Denver game without any serious injuries, and Harbaugh hopes middle linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) can return for an AFC North showdown Sunday night with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Ravens Week 3 Player of the Game: LB Kenny Young

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Ravens Week 3 Player of the Game: LB Kenny Young

What the Ravens have lost in three-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley due to injury, they've gained in rookie Kenny Young.

Week 2 against the Bengals, Young stepped in for Mosley and put up five solo tackles and three assists. Then when Week 3 came around and Mosley was still too injured to play, Young got the start and logged 44 snaps. He finished with eight solo tackles, two assists and a critical third-down sack on Broncos quarterback Case Keenum in the second quarter. Young's stingy performance helped fuel a stellar defensive effort in the Ravens' 27-14 victory.

A fourth-round draft pick out of UCLA, Young has the maturity needed to succeed in this league.

Obsessed with perfection, as noted in a profile done via the Ravens' website, Young is already impressing his coaches and veteran teammates. 

He’s a smart guy, so he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a mistake,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s not scared to make a mistake. He’s willing to play fast even if he does make a mistake. And sometimes, some of the plays you see him making? He might not be perfectly where he’s supposed to be, but that willingness to play fast overcomes it, and you go make a good football play.

While the timetable for Mosely's return is unknown, the Ravens can find solace in knowing their young replacement is a steady hand.

The 23-year-old currently leads the team in tackles (17), followed by Tony Jefferson (12). 

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