Vikings: Flacco nearing elite status

The Vikings have faced several elite quarterbacks this year. They will face another Sunday in Joe Flacco, whose success in terms of wins and losses has pushed him into the class of the elite quarterbacks of the NFL.

When the discussion is undertaken about elite quarterbacks, the name Joe Flacco isn't typically in that conversation. Despite being one of the most successful quarterbacks in the league in terms of leading his teams to the playoffs and, more importantly, proving he can win games on the road in January, Flacco doesn't find his name mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady.

Yet, after an impressive Super Bowl run last year, Flacco is the Ravens' franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future and has earned the respect of Vikings defenders who are preparing to fluster him this week.

"Here's a guy who turned a (contract) extension to play last year, won a Super Bowl and got super-paid," defensive end Jared Allen said. "Good for him. You can just tell the way he's grown – his presence and leadership. People were kind of curious how he would handle it when Ray (Lewis) left. You can tell it's his team. You can tell the way he conducts himself. He's an elite quarterback."

As with much of Baltimore's offense, Flacco has experienced an up-and-down season in 2013. He has almost as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (15), but he brings a lot to the table for defenders to worry about.

"He just makes plays," defensive end Brian Robison said. "He's got a gun for an arm and isn't shy about taking shots deep down the field. He will stand tall in the pocket and take a hit to deliver the ball on time even when he knows he's going to take a shot. It's going to be our job to try to get to him quickly and make him get rid of the ball faster than he wants to."

Getting to Flacco is more difficult than it seems. He is a pure pocket passer – he has run just 21 times this season and none of those were designed runs for him. He moves much in the same way Brett Favre did: a scrambler with an innate sense of when to move within the pocket to buy himself an extra second or two to allow a receiver to uncover, forcing defenses to stick to their man longer than they want to or should.

Allen sees similarities in Flacco and a pair of other Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks who minimize their mistakes by being technically sound in the pocket.

"He knows how to extend a play," Allen said. "He reminds me a lot of (Ben) Roethlisberger. He's not the most mobile guy, but he knows how to work the pocket with angles and finding step-up lanes and ways to create plays downfield. He's a lot like (Drew) Brees in that he knows where his outlet is at. Brees never puts himself in a lot of trouble because he knows where his outlets are at. He's a big-bodied quarterback who will stand in and make the tough throws, but he's also agile enough to give him the quick second to hit a check-down."

Flacco has been virtually ignored by media types that rank quarterbacks. He isn't prolific like Rodgers, Brees, Manning or Brady. He isn't dynamic like Russell Wilson or Robert Griffin III, but what players notice is the week-in, week-out success that he has enjoyed over the years. You can't put a price tag on sustained success like Flacco has enjoyed.

"In this game, it's all about winning and there's no way you can deny that Joe Flacco is a winner," linebacker Erin Henderson said. "From the time he came into the league, Baltimore has been a playoff team and he has a Super Bowl ring. He was as good as any quarterback has been in a long time last year in the playoffs. I don't know why he doesn't get mentioned with those other top quarterbacks because, when you look at winning and losing, he's been just about as good as anybody."

The Vikings' task Sunday will be to force Flacco into bad down-and-distance situations. His running game has struggled and his offensive line has undergone an overhaul since the Super Bowl in February. He's been sacked 39 times and the Vikings know that they will need to bring pressure from the front four and on blitzes to keep him from getting in a groove.

"He's a very good quarterback," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Like most good quarterbacks, you have to get pressure on them. Even the best quarterbacks will struggle if you can consistently get pressure on them. We can't give him the time to air it out because he has a very accurate deep ball, but he needs time for plays like that to develop. We need to get pressure in his face quickly. If he gets the time he needs back there, he can do a lot of damage. We can't let him get that kind of time because he can make you pay if he does."

Flacco may never be viewed as a Hall of Fame quarterback, but, considering his professional resume, it's hard to argue with his success and the problems he will pose for a banged-up Vikings defense looking to go on the road and pull off an upset.

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