Dennis Pitta Is Key to Resurgence of Baltimore Ravens' Passing Attack

Shehan PeirisCorrespondent IIIDecember 8, 2013

Dennis Pitta's return is a terrific boost for the offense.
Dennis Pitta's return is a terrific boost for the offense.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The big news for the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14 was the return of Dennis Pitta. Baltimore escaped a crazy game against the Minnesota Vikings with a necessary victory, and Pitta was a huge part of the Ravens’ success. It was only his first game back, but it’s clear that the tight end will be a major factor in the passing attack for the rest of the season.

Pitta was listed as active before the game, but his role was supposed to be limited according to The Baltimore Sun.

The BYU product didn’t look limited against the Vikings.

He finished the game with six receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown, including a number of big plays down the stretch that were critical to Baltimore’s win.

Pitta was eased back into game action with a reduced workload (he played around 35 snaps), but he showed the different ways that he can help the offense.

It started with his ability to make tough catches. Pitta quickly shook off the rust and looked like the go-to receiver that was an enormous part of the Ravens’ Super Bowl run.

Pitta's remarkable catch against Minnesota.
Pitta's remarkable catch against Minnesota.Larry French/Getty Images

The tight end made a spectacular diving catch on third down that was one of Baltimore’s best plays of the season.

The Ravens have sorely missed Pitta’s ability to make contested catches, and his return gives Joe Flacco a valuable safety valve—a luxury he hasn’t enjoyed this year.

Furthermore, Pitta gives Flacco a terrific third-down option. Pitta received more targets on third and fourth down than any other receiver, and he converted half of them for first downs.

3rd- and 4th-Down Targets in Week 14
Dennis Pitta6
Jacoby Jones3
Ray Rice2
Torrey Smith1
Marlon Brown1
Ed Dickson1
Vonta Leach1
Brandon Stokley1

That’s a trend that is certain to continue, and Pitta’s presence on the field will lead to a better conversion percentage on third down. Baltimore currently ranks 17th in that department with a 37.6 percent success rate, but that mark is sure to rise now that Pitta is back on the field.

Another area where Pitta showed his value was in the red zone.

He scored what was a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and then caught an 18-yard pass on Baltimore’s final drive to set up the game-winning score.

Pitta scored 10 touchdowns last year, and he’s a nightmare for opposing defenses to deal with in the end zone. His size, hands and route running make him a difficult cover, and he showed as much against the Vikings.

Joe Flacco and Dennis Pitta are close friends off the field, and their chemistry is evident.
Joe Flacco and Dennis Pitta are close friends off the field, and their chemistry is evident.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Finally, don’t discount how important Pitta’s presence is for Joe Flacco. Not merely in terms of Xs and Os but in terms of trust.

While playing without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta to start the year, Flacco was desperate for a target he could rely on in crucial situations. Torrey Smith has been fantastic for Baltimore, but he isn’t a “chain-mover.”

Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark were Flacco’s third-down targets, but now he has an elite possession receiver at his disposal.

It quickly became clear how much Joe Flacco had missed his favorite target. As the game went on, Flacco kept looking for Pitta and the tight end kept rewarding him.

Despite playing fewer snaps than his fellow receivers, Pitta was targeted 11 times—tied for the most on the team with Marlon Brown. Even after missing the entire season, the chemistry between Flacco and Pitta was evident.

Dennis Pitta isn’t going to single-handedly make the Ravens an explosive offense, but he will significantly improve every aspect of the passing game. The win against Minnesota was vitally important—especially considering Baltimore’s upcoming schedule—but Pitta’s return was the biggest takeaway from Week 14.