Visanthe Shiancoe Can't Be Ravens' Only Answer to Dennis Pitta's Injury
The Baltimore Ravens made a solid move to sign veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on Sunday. That is providing they realize their work at adding receivers to the roster is not over.
Let's start with the news. The defending Super Bowl champs tweeted about their latest acquisition:
TE Visanthe Shiancoe has signed a one-year contract with the #Ravens.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) July 28, 2013
This move was in no way a surprise with the reality of this tweet by the Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson:
John harbaugh says dennis pitta is definitely out for the year no way he can play at all— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) July 28, 2013
This is a big loss for the Ravens. Over the last two regular seasons, Pitta has caught 101 passes for 10 touchdowns. Last year, he pulled in 61 passes for seven touchdowns in the regular season and went on to catch 14 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns in the Ravens' four postseason games.
It should go without saying that Shiancoe is not able to come anywhere near this level of production. If he could, he would not have still been a free agent.
The 33-year-old has had a solid career with 243 receptions for 2,677 yards and 27 touchdowns in his 148 career games.
However, as a member of the New England Patriots last season, Shiancoe couldn't find a single reception. While losing a step or five, Shiancoe's numbers have been on a steady decline since posting a career-high 56 catches in 2009.
At this point in his career, it is time to wonder if Shiancoe is still good enough to be in the NFL, let alone make massive contributions.
The good news for the Ravens is that they don't need Shiancoe to come in and be the starter. They still have Ed Dickson at tight end.
After a 2011 season where he caught 54 passes and five touchdowns, many thought the athletic Dickson would emerge as the Ravens' top tight end last year. It didn't happen, as he caught just 21 passes.
He will undoubtedly now get ample opportunities to improve on that this year. However, it won't be enough to cover what the Ravens have lost, and that is also vastly more than Shiancoe can supply.
After trading wide receiver Anquan Boldin this offseason, the Ravens needed Pitta to become an even bigger part of the offense. Now, he isn't going to be any part of the offense. To see how this could be problematic for Joe Flacco and the Ravens' offense, take a look at how heavily the Ravens leaned on these two in the passing game last year:
Boldin and Pitta combined to catch 126 catches. Along with Ray Rice, who tied Pitta with 61 catches, this easily led the team.
It was assumed that the loss of production that came with Boldin could be picked up with the greater use of two-tight end sets—using Pitta and Dickson. Dickson is more capable of stretching the field, while Pitta is better working underneath coverages.
With the loss of Pitta, those sets became a lot less viable, and now the Ravens are left scrambling over where they will turn in crucial situations.
Where Pitta's absence is really going to hurt is on third downs and in the red zone. Boldin, Pitta and Rice were the best bets for Flacco last year in these key areas.
While Dickson and receiver Torrey Smith both have the ability to stretch the field, neither is the typical "possession" receiver.
This is where the Ravens must continue to look for upgrades, and they certainly still have time to do so. As we get closer to the start of the season, teams will begin to make cuts and players will become available.
Baltimore will be able to fill this "possession" void with either a tight end or receiver. That should depend on who becomes available, and obviously, that part is still unclear.
What is clear is Baltimore must do something to fill this new void because Shiancoe is not that guy.
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