Do you ever sit watching a game of football and find yourself asking the question, “Why don’t the Ravens try that?!” Well, if my twitter timeline is to be believed during non-Ravens prime time games, I think the answer is a resounding yes. That’s the situation I found myself in on Sunday night as I sat down to work my way through the game between the Detroit Lions and the Jacksonville Jaguars for Pro Football Focus. However, before I get into what I saw that caught my attention, let’s first look at where I think the Ravens are struggling on offense.
The Ravens obviously have one of the best running backs in the league in Ray Rice and with backup Bernard Pierce looking better and better with every game, the future looks bright in the Baltimore backfield. Nobody on the offensive line has really struggled as a run blocker this season, with the play of Marshal Yanda once again proving to be a highlight. However where the Ravens aren’t getting any help in the running game is from the tight end position.
With Dennis Pitta’s emergence this season as one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, we’ve seen Ed Dickson spend more time as an in-line blocker and, simply put, he just hasn’t got it done. Routinely beaten by opposing defensive ends and outside linebackers for tackles for short or no gain, it’s getting to the point where you have to question if he is offering any resistance against defenders as a run blocker. Given what we’ve seen this season, and in the past, would you trust Ed Dickson as a blocker on 4th-and-goal from the one yard line with the game on the line? I know I wouldn’t.
Perhaps the biggest problem though is that the team doesn’t have a blocking tight end who can replace him. Pitta, as good as he is as a receiver and in the slot, hasn’t offered much as a blocker himself, albeit not struggling as much as Dickson. Billy Bajema, the team’s rarely used third tight end, has seen just six snaps on offense with just three coming as a run blocker. From those three plays, about as limited a view as you can get, Bajema hasn’t made a positive block while being beaten badly by Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Alex Albright on one play in particular. Furthermore, his past two seasons in St. Louis have been borderline awful – and that’s perhaps being kind – when he’s been on the field as a run blocker.
So, there I sat watching the Detroit Lions offense take the field. Like many teams in the league they occasionally bring on a sixth offensive lineman in short yardage situations. Only on Sunday they went a step further. Instead of merely being their extra offensive lineman, rookie first round draft pick Riley Reiff found himself on the field for 33 of the team’s 72 offensive snaps. On all of those 33 plays he was lined up as a tight end and made several key blocks for a Lions offense that averaged 4.4 yards per carry on the ground.
That made me wonder if the Ravens could do the same thing. Could Jah Reid play a similar role in Baltimore? In his first action of the season last week, he played 9 snaps as a run blocker and, while he wasn’t dominating, didn’t give much cause for panic to get him off the field either.
Potentially putting an extra offensive lineman in at tight end as often as the Lions did with Reiff tips your hand that you plan to run the ball but there’s nothing to stop him playing passing downs too. Taking Dickson off the field for Reid might seem like you’re taking a potential playmaker from the offense; however, the lack of passes Dickson has seen thrown his way (18 targets so far this season) suggest that the team don’t view him as much of a threat in the passing game just now anyway.
Is it something I expect the Ravens to do? Maybe not, but with an apparent focus on running the ball later in the season, the team needs to get better blocking from the tight end spot and, given what’s on the roster right now, Reid may be the best man for the job.