BALTIMORE – It almost sounds like an old movie, the repetitive kind that usually wraps up with a snoozer of an ending containing all of the excitement of a box of stale popcorn.
That’s how many times the Baltimore Ravens have attempted to energize their receiving corps only to be let down by how their well-constructed plans went awry on the field.
Just a year ago, the Ravens traded for former Pro Bowl selection Anquan Boldin and signed Donte’ Stallworth before adding T.J. Houshmandzadeh when Stallworth broke his foot.
With the exception of Boldin, though, their impact was negligible.
Fast forward to today and the Ravens’ revamped wide receiver situation has quarterback Joe Flacco convinced that the offense is truly headed in the right direction: downfield and moving toward the end zone.
“I can’t wait to see what happens,” Flacco said. “I think we are really on our way.”
The trade with the Buffalo Bills to acquire speedster wide receiver Lee Evans has dramatically changed the dynamic of the Ravens’offense so far during the preseason.
In a 34-31 Ravens victory Thursday night over the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium, Boldin and Evans combined for eight receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
The Ravens fell behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter, and they got back into the game by Flacco airing it out to Boldin and Evans.
Unlike a year ago where Boldin, Derrick Mason and Houshmandzadeh all ran similar trademark patterns with none of them having the speed to gain separation, Evans is a burner.
Flacco lofted a 35-yard strike to Evans for a touchdown where the former Wisconsin star bolted past coverage to scoot into the end zone.
“Quick-strike ability, you have to have it,” coach John Harbaugh said. ‘Guys like Lee, that’s what they do.”
While Boldin excels at muscling defenders on short to intermediate routes and turning into a running back with his violent running style after the catch, Evans’ territory is challenging defenders deep.
“He’s the guy that pretty much takes the top off of defenses,” Boldin said. “Opens up everything underneath for guys like myself and Ray Rice and other guys.”
And Flacco placed the football exactly to Evans, allowing him to run away from the Redskins’ secondary without having to wait for the pass to arrive.
“The ball Joe threw was great, and I just wanted to go up and try to make a play on it,” Evans said. “He put it in a good position, and I just tried to run and catch up with it. It was a well-executed play.”
Added Harbaugh: “I guess when you’re that fast, you just throw the ball out there and go chase it. Maybe, that’s an easier transition. .. The play that Evans made, wow. To be able to go get that ball the way he did, there was a point in time where I didn’t think he was going to be able to catch up with the throw. I guess Joe knew he would be able to catch up. He put it right where it had to be.”
Flacco misfired early in the game when he stared down Boldin as cornerback DeAngelo Hall jumped the route and returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown.
Later, though, Flacco connected with Boldin for a 12-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to tie the score as he hit him in the back of the end zone.
Boldin finished the game with five receptions for 73 yards.
Extra work together is beginning to pay dividends one season removed from Boldin dipping to a career-low 64 receptions for 837 yards and seven touchdowns last year during his first season in Baltimore.
The timing and chemistry is evidently improving.
“That’s what we’re working towards,” Boldin said. “We kind of spend a little time after practice making sure we’re on the same page, going through extra routes. It’s not something that happens overnight. The great ones always put in extra time, and that’s what we’re trying to do now.”
Flacco also traveled to work with Boldin this offseason.
Communication and trust are growing as Flacco adjusts to no longer havingMason and tight end Todd Heap to throw to with their salary-cap related releases prior to training camp.
“Me and Anquan have been hooking up this training camp, and we have been talking to each other about what we’re seeing,” Flacco said. “I am really confident about where we are at right now.”
That’s the biggest change afoot in the Ravens’offense, one that still has issues to deal with because of an offensive line that’s still in transition with the signing of former Pro Bowl offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie to play left tackle, Michael Oher moving to right tackle and center Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda sidelined with injuries.
Still, the Ravens’ perimeter game is beginning to shed the well-deserved predictable labels of the past.
“You talk about timing and chemistry and maturing together,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know even what the word is, but I think they are getting to know each other in the passing game. And that bodes well for us.”