How Dennis Pitta's Return Has Rejuvenated the Ravens Offense

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How Dennis Pitta's Return Has Rejuvenated the Ravens Offense
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The Baltimore Ravens offense has been miserable this season, there’s no denying that. Poor offensive line play has doomed the running game, and the passing attack has only managed short bursts of excellence that interrupt long bouts of mediocrity.

But Dennis Pitta will change all of that. At least, he’ll change the passing game.

His presence could force defenses to stop loading up against the run, but it won’t do anything more to help out the ground game. Regardless, Pitta will make the Ravens much more dangerous through the air. He already showed us the different ways that he’ll help the offense in just his first game back from an extended layoff.

 

The Joe Flacco-Dennis Pitta Connection

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco has not played like a $120 million quarterback this season. There are many reasons for that, but one of the biggest has been all the new receivers he’s had to work with.

Flacco had never thrown to Marlon Brown, Tandon Doss, Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark in game scenarios before this season, and that lack of chemistry has been evident.

Dennis Pitta is not just a player that Flacco is familiar with. He’s his favorite target.

Whenever Flacco got into trouble last year, he’d look to Anquan Boldin or Dennis Pitta. The Super Bowl MVP had no safety valves for the first 13 weeks of the 2013 season, but he just got one back, and it will be a huge help for the offense.

The trust between the two cannot be understated, and their special connection (both on and off the field) means that they’re generally on the same page.

For example, Flacco has had to make a ton of plays with his feet this season. When plays break down, Ray Rice and Dallas Clark are the only players that have been able to help their quarterback out on a consistent basis. You can now add Pitta to that list.

Late in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings, Flacco was faced with that exact scenario.

NFL GameRewind
Courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

He was on the run out of the pocket, and Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown were both unable to create separation from the defense (red boxes). Ray Rice was open (green), but he probably wouldn’t have been able to pick up the first down.

It was Pitta (yellow) who was able to find the soft spot in the defense, and Flacco found him for an 18-yard gain that set up the game-winning touchdown.

With Pitta back in purple and black, Flacco finally has a go-to receiver. Torrey Smith has been excellent as the No. 1 receiver, but he’s not a player whom Flacco would target on a critical third-down play. That role belongs to Pitta.

With the athletic tight end back in the fold, Joe Flacco will be much more comfortable, and he will be a better quarterback as a result.

 

Third-Down Converter

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

That trust in Dennis Pitta is clearest in crucial situations. Against the Vikings, for example, Pitta received six targets on third and fourth down (no other Raven had more than three).

Baltimore is ranked 14th in the league with a third-down conversion rate of just 37.6 percent. A lot of that is due to the offense's inability to execute on first and second downs. As a result, the Ravens have attempted 210 third downs—the highest number in the league.

Last season, Pitta showcased the ability to make tough catches in traffic. He already showed off his spectacular hands on this amazing third-down grab against Minnesota.

Larry French/Getty Images

Pitta will significantly improve Baltimore’s ability to convert on third down, and that should result in more points for an offense that has struggled to sustain drives.

 

The Red Zone

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore has struggled to convert red-zone trips into touchdowns. The Ravens rank 21st in the NFL, scoring touchdowns on just 52 percent of their red-zone attempts according to TeamRankings.com.

That inability to get into the end zone has cost Baltimore in its close games, and it can’t remain a limitation for the team. Dennis Pitta’s return will help the cause.

The BYU product scored 10 touchdowns last season (including the playoffs) and does his best work in the end zone.

He scored a touchdown against the Vikings on a simple out route, but his route-running is so excellent that he quickly gains separation and makes it an easy throw for Flacco.

NFL GameRewind
Pitta's 1-yard TD vs. Vikings; All-22 footage courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

Pitta is a touchdown machine, and he’ll help the Ravens punch it into the end zone more frequently.

The combination of these three things will make the Baltimore offense dangerous through the air. It’s a completely different story on the ground, but Joe Flacco will start to play some good football to close out the season, and the Ravens' offense will help out its defense by scoring more points.

 

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