Baltimore Ravens Wide Receivers Performing Better Than Expected Through 6 Weeks

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Baltimore Ravens Wide Receivers Performing Better Than Expected Through 6 Weeks
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Torrey Smith has carried the Ravens to start the season, but there are other receiving weapons on the roster.

As the Baltimore Ravens entered the 2013 NFL season, the general consensus was that the wide receiver position was the most glaring weakness of the team.

Instead, it's starting to look like a strength.

Baltimore has been completely incapable of running the football, and its passing attack has been its only form of offense. Who saw that coming at the start of the season?

When general manager Ozzie Newsome traded Anquan Boldin, he was betting on the development of the young receivers on the roster.

Early in the season, it looked like a gamble that had backfired on the Ravens. Boldin looked superhuman in Week 1 for the San Francisco 49ers. He nearly outproduced all of the Baltimore receivers combined.

Anquan Boldin vs. Baltimore Ravens: Week 1
Player Receptions Yards TDs
Anquan Boldin 13 208 1
All Baltimore Ravens WRs Combined 15 215 1

As the year has gone on, however, those young receivers have grown more comfortable and the rash of injuries that hit the position group has gone away. Week 6 marked the first time that Baltimore has had five healthy receivers all year.

They looked like a dangerous unit.

Nobody will mistake them for the receiving corps of the Denver Broncos or Green Bay Packers, but they have all shown promise. The rotation still needs to be figured out, but they will be critical to the success of the team moving forward.

To be clear, the running game definitely needs to improve. Without it, Baltimore will struggle like it has all year.

Nevertheless, the suddenly crowded competition at wide receiver gives offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell the chance to do some different things.

For example, he can utilize more three- and four-wideout formations. He used a four-wide formation twice against the Packers, something Caldwell had only done once in the previous five games.

Tandon Doss' six-yard gain out of a four-WR formation in Week 6 vs. Green Bay Packers; all-22 footage courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

On this play, both Marlon Brown and Torrey Smith run 15-yard curls (blue), while Jacoby Jones runs a post (black). As those three get downfield, they open up the underneath crossing route by Tandon Doss (yellow).

Doss uses his speed to get in front of A.J. Hawk (red), and he picks up six yards on the play. With four very capable receivers, sets like this should be seen more frequently.

Tight End Grades via ProFootballFocus
Player Snaps Receiving Blocking Overall
Dallas Clark 244 0.7 -2.1 -1.3
Ed Dickson 230 -1.9 -5.6 -7.5
Billy Bajema 68 0.2 -0.4 -0.8
Total 542 -1.0 -8.1 -9.6

Furthermore, the tight ends have been inconsistent and disappointing this year, although Dallas Clark had a good performance in Week 6. Per Pro Football Focus, none of them are blocking well (a combined blocking grade of minus-8.1), nor are they particularly effective as receivers (subscription required).

Now that Caldwell has an arsenal of receivers, he can use less two-TE formations and more three-WR sets. The additional speed allows the offense to be more aggressive in getting down the field and plays to Joe Flacco's strengths—namely his strong arm and his wavering accuracy on short routes.

Jacoby Jones' 31-yard gain out of a three-WR formation vs. Green Bay Packers in Week 6; all-22 footage courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

On this play, Jacoby Jones is left wide open in the middle of the field as the high safety and cornerback (pink dotted arrows) follow Ed Dickson's go route (purple). Safety Morgan Burnett (green dotted arrow) covers Tandon Doss (black), and there is a huge hole in the defense.

Baltimore has been doing the same things for six weeks, and the offense hasn't improved. The return of Jacoby Jones gives the Ravens the chance to be more aggressive with the play-calling and use their newfound depth at wide receiver.

Moreover, these adjustments could just as easily serve the running game as they will the passing attack.

Of their 22 rushing attempts against the Packers, only four of them came out of three-wideout formations. Two of those four plays were draw plays on 3rd-and-long to get better field position for the punt.

The offensive line is struggling with their assignments and communication against stacked boxes, and the result is that they are routinely leaving defenders unblocked to make plays.

By spreading the defense out with three wide receivers, Baltimore can get a more favorable matchup in the box and help the linemen out.

Running out of a three-WR formation against Green Bay Packers in Week 6; reverse angle footage courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

On this play, the Ravens ran out of a shotgun formation and got a matchup of six defensive players in the box against five offensive linemen and a tight end. The safeties aren't even in the picture because they have to respect the three wideouts.

This gives the offensive line a better chance of preventing penetration and gaining positive yardage on rushing attempts—something the Ravens have had a hard time accomplishing.

Six weeks into the season, the receiving corps looks pretty good. Torrey Smith has shown a complete game and established himself as an excellent primary receiver. Marlon Brown has wildly exceeded expectations and joined the lineage of successful undrafted gems in Baltimore that includes Priest Holmes, Bart Scott, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss will split time between receiver and returner.

Jacoby Jones gave the offense a spark, and his workload will only continue to grow above the 20 offensive snaps he saw in Week 7. He shares return duties with Tandon Doss, who has looked rejuvenated after his 82-yard punt return touchdown in Week 3, and is becoming a valuable contributor on offense as well.

Finally, Deonte Thompson has shown his ability as a deep threat and Brandon Stokley has been a third-down weapon. If the Ravens are counting on them as WRs Nos. 5 and 6, they can count themselves lucky.

Moving forward, we will probably see Marlon Brown split time with Jones as the No. 2 receiver and Doss as the slot receiver. That rotation will keep everybody fresh and give the Ravens the chance to line up three dangerous receivers whenever they desire (and even four on some occasions).

The Ravens' offense is stuck in a rut, and something needs to change for them to get out of it. The return of Jacoby Jones and the development of Brown and Doss give Caldwell the chance to alter his play-calling.

The running game is vital, but the receivers have stood out as the playmakers. Jim Caldwell needs to make better use of them, which might just jump start the entire offense.

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