The Baltimore Ravens got some good news last week when tight end Dennis Pitta was cleared to return to the practice field. Pitta wasn't able to suit up last week against the New York Jets, but the latest reports suggest that Pitta will be back in action by Week 14, and many are hoping that he can revitalize a stagnant offense.
Week 14 the likely return date for Dennis Pitta http://t.co/Ca7yvHu8Lg— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) November 24, 2013
While he won’t be able to singlehandedly turn around the team's fortunes, Pitta’s presence will help Joe Flacco and the offense in a number of ways.
Dennis Pitta developed into a red-zone weapon for Flacco last season. He was second on the team in receiving touchdowns, and the big-bodied tight end became one of Flacco’s go-to targets near the goal line.
Firstly, he’s an excellent route-runner who has shown an ability to read defenses and find the soft spots in the coverage. We saw this on his one-yard touchdown in the Super Bowl.
On the play-action, Pitta releases and works along the back of the end zone. When he finds the coverage gap between the two defenders, he presents a big target to Flacco, who knows exactly what to do with the ball. Their familiarity will be a nice addition to the offense as Flacco doesn’t have that kind of rapport with any of the receivers on the roster.
In addition to his route-running, it is Pitta’s ability to make contested catches that will be a breath of fresh air for the Ravens.
Anquan Boldin has made a career out of being able to make tough catches with defenders draped all over him. Dennis Pitta, while not as widely acclaimed in that regard, also has that skill.
In Week 1 of the 2012 season, Pitta showed his value in the red zone with an impressive 10-yard touchdown.
Pitta is matched up against a smaller cornerback, so he simply works up the seam and Flacco throws a perfect ball. All of the credit for the touchdown, however, needs to go to Pitta.
He’s able to make an acrobatic, leaping catch with the defender all over him. The Ravens' offense has sorely missed that kind of playmaking ability without Boldin or Pitta, and Torrey Smith has been the only receiver who can make contested catches with any kind of consistency.
Pitta’s size, excellent hands and his familiarity with Joe Flacco will improve a red-zone offense that is currently ranked 20th in the league in terms of scoring touchdowns, according to TeamRankings.com.
Passing in the Middle of the Field
Throwing between the numbers was one of Flacco’s strengths last year, but he hasn’t been able to replicate that success without his tight end in the mix.
|Year||Passer Rating to the Middle of the Field|
Part of his success was due to Boldin’s proficiency as a slot receiver, but Pitta’s return will give Flacco a reliable target in the middle of the field. Pitta is a great weapon down the seams of the defense, and he’s excellent at getting behind his man and adjusting to the football while it's in the air.
On this 31-yard touchdown against the Denver Broncos, Pitta is able to make a difficult catch in the middle of the field.
He made a similar play in the divisional round of the playoffs on a critical 3rd-and-13 when the Ravens were backed up near their own end zone in overtime.
The majority of Pitta’s plays last year were made in the middle of the field, and his return will allow the offense to attack the middle of opposing defenses more frequently.
Part of what made the Ravens' offense so explosive last season was the threat of the underneath passing game, with Pitta and Boldin attracting defensive attention. This gave Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones some favorable matchups on the outside.
Nobody has been able to be a consistent short-range threat, so Pitta’s return to action will allow Flacco to keep the chains moving and keep defenses honest.
Against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Pitta made two big plays on short routes. The first one was a little curl behind the linebackers where he had the room to pick up 17 yards—most of which came after the catch.
Later on in the game, Pitta worked out of the slot and ran a quick slant across the middle of the field. Flacco hit him in stride, and he was able to turn upfield and gain 22 yards on the play.
Pitta’s crisp route-running and elite hands will help the offense all over the field, but his specific talents will significantly improve these three areas of the Ravens' passing attack. He won’t transform the unit into the explosive offense that stormed through last year’s playoffs, but he’ll be a great help to a unit that doesn’t have to do too much thanks to such a stifling Baltimore defense.