Baltimore Ravens: Does the Receiving Corps Lack Speed or Athleticism?

Barry BarnesContributor IIISeptember 3, 2011

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 25: Wide receiver Lee Evans #83 of the Baltimore Ravens catches a touchdown pass against defender DeAngelo Hall #23 of the Washington Redskins during the first half of a preason game at M&T Bank Stadium on August 25, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 25: Wide receiver Torrey Smith #82 of the Baltimore Ravens lines up against the Washington Redskins during the second half of a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium on August 25, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Re
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Changes are good, and traditions are, too.  However, an identity is probably the most important thing to have because the masses can identify the featured attraction. 

In the NFL, change is not always a great thing and traditions are often overlooked.  Having an identity, due to a tradition or a change, separates teams with a common, disciplined focus from teams who struggling to keep up with no foundation.

The Baltimore Ravens are focused and are a legitimate Super Bowl contender.  However, they are now in the mist of making a change, offensively, from their branded style of being a physical, pound-the-ball team to an aerial display.  The Ravens are traditionally a defensive-minded squad, and now they want to revisit their past as an effective passing team when retired quarterback Vinny Testaverde was a 4,000-yard passer in 1996 for the club.

Testaverde was the first quarterback in Ravens franchise history to represent the organization for that position in the Pro Bowl. 

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco looks to become the next quarterback for the team to take snaps from center in the league’s annual All-Star contest. 

The Ravens are half way there in being effective in their passing game, due to Flacco’s proven leadership skills and big arm (despite having some flaws).  Moreover, the Ravens need receivers to complement Flacco’s ability to throw the deep ball.

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 01:   David Reed #16 of the Baltimore Ravens pulls in this reception against Chris Owens #21 of the Atlanta Falcons before Reed was called for offensive pass interference at Georgia Dome on September 1, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Against blitz happy teams, are the Ravens receivers fast or athletic enough to help the team, in critical situations, to have a successful, offensive identity change to compete and win?

At the tight end position, the Ravens are more athletic with the leaping abilities of Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, now that tight end Todd Heap is gone (now with the Arizona Cardinals).  For the wide receivers, they are physical, just not as athletic.  Moreover, faster compared to last season’s corp because veterans Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are no longer with the club and Ravens are experimenting with younger faster players.

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin is a good, physical route runner, but not a burner.  Lee Evans, who was acquired via trade with the Buffalo Bills after the Ravens' first preseason game, will be the team’s best, most reliable deep threat, which Flacco truly needs.  Rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith is the most athletic pass catcher on the Ravens roster, but similar David Reed and rookies LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss; Smith is an experiment as well.

Nevertheless, the Ravens are faster and more athletic, compared to last season’s roster. Compared the rest of the pass-happy teams in the NFL like the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers to name a few, who the Ravens like to be based off talent and abilities—absolutely not. 

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 19: Running back Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens scores a touchdown in front of safety Sabby Piscitelli #49 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium on August 19, 2011 in Baltimore
Rob Carr/Getty Images

These teams did not just become passing teams overnight.   Their ability to be effective in the air has always been in their organizations' DNA.  The Ravens are the new kids on the block as a passing team.  The Ravens are still learning what types of receivers they need to assist Flacco. Having receivers with speed and athleticism are not always the key components in having a successful passing game.   

Even compared to their hated, divisional rival, the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers (who too are a traditionally clock controlled offense), the Ravens receiving corp does not come close to the Steelers triple-speed threat of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders (with a touch of Arnaz Battle), where the Baltimore has one burner in Evans.

The Steelers are steps ahead of the Ravens in their passing game because they have the right receivers to complement quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and they have already been through the fire.

With all that was said, the Ravens are attempting to change their identity from being a physical running, control the clock team to a lights out high wire act.  The temptation of Flacco’s big arm can understandably change the mindset of any coaching staff in terms of being aggressive throwing the ball down the field. 

However, the Ravens bread and butter should always be their running game, but with running back Ray Rice's and Ricky Williams’ ability to catch from the backfield are added dimensions in the team’s passing attack.

In addition, if Flacco can be sharper in his delivers, the wide receiver corp would be more explosive if he can hit his pass catchers in strive, consistently.

Everything boils down to Flacco getting the ball out quickly into tight coverage so the receiving corp can display their athleticism, and connect with them in stride to truly witness their speed.

Other than that, the Ravens passing experiment will fail and their receiving corp in terms of athleticism and speed would just be average at the least.

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