When Dennis Pitta broke his hand not even a week into training camp, many were concerned about his being ready for the regular season.
Now that the Ravens are heading into their third game, Pitta leads the team in receiving and is clearly a favorite target for Joe Flacco – which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
During the first series of the second half in Philadelphia, Flacco threw to Pitta while he was being triple covered by Eagles’ defenders. The pass was intercepted by DeMeco Ryans, ending a drive on which Flacco had thrown to Pitta four straight times.
It doesn’t take a NFL-caliber defensive coordinator to pick up tendencies of a player and for Flacco on Sunday, you could see he was possibly a little too comfortable with Pitta – and the rest of the team paid for it.
In total, Flacco targeted Pitta 15 times on Sunday, accounting for 35.7% of his total passes. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss combined for a total of 12 targets collectively through the entire game.
Even though the Ravens easily beat the Bengals, their wide receivers were only targeted 11 times (38%) when Flacco was on the field.
Poised for a breakout sophomore season, Smith has only been targeted eight times, catching four passes for 108 yards. Though he has also been used to stretch the field (and drew what should have been a pass interference penalty in the end zone), he hasn’t had enough passes thrown his way as of yet for him to truly shine.
In total, Flacco has targeted tight ends on 44% of his tosses this season, which doesn’t leave enough balls to go around for the rest of the wide receiver corps. Throw in Ray Rice, who will also demand some passes out of the backfield, and the balance skews away from the wideouts even further.
Now, throwing to the tight end isn’t a wholly ill-advised strategy, in itself.
Look no further than the Ravens’ opponent this week to see what type of impact a tight end can have on an offense. Rob Gronkowski put the Patriots on his back as he set an NFL record with 17 touchdowns from his tight end spot, playing a huge part in the Pats going back to the Super Bowl in 2011.
Even though the Patriots targeted their tight ends 39% of their passes last season, their playing style is different than that of the Ravens. The most glaring difference is the utilization of running backs catching passes out of the backfield – the Patriots only targeted their backs 10% of plays, while the Ravens looked Rice’s way 27% of the time.
No disrespect to Pitta intended, but he is no Rob Gronkowski. He and Ed Dickson are a very productive tandem, and Pitta should continue to be utilized to move the chains, while Dickson sprints down the seam for larger gains. In the red zone, they are both valuable weapons.
However, the true playmakers need to play a bigger part in the Ravens offense, especially between the 20’s. With Smith and Jones, they have some of the best speed in the NFL to stretch the field. We all know what Rice can do.
The Ravens will make adjustments this week and I’m sure distribution will level out. Nonetheless, after last week, it feels like we’re beating the same dead horse here in Baltimore that we had hoped we buried last season.
Rice needs the ball more.
Pitta could probably stand to see the ball come his way markedly less.
Through two games, the New England defense looks vastly improved over a year ago, ranking fourth in the NFL. Take it with a grain of salt though, as they have faced Jake Locker (Tennessee) and Kevin Kolb (Arizona).
The Ravens should be able to move the ball much more efficiently than either of those teams did against the Pats. To best do so, they need to make use of their entire aresenal of weapons.