Pitta of Despair
I’d be willing to bet he’d give a few of those millions back if it meant he could have his favorite target healthy and back on the field.
Late last month, fourth-year tight end Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip after a training camp collision with safety James Ihedigbo. The injury will sideline Pitta for the entire 2013 season, and it creates a gaping void in the Ravens’ passing offense.
While wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones figured to highlight the big-play potential of the Ravens’ offense, Pitta steadily had evolved into Flacco’s most dependable option over the 2012 season. And when you factor in that the Ravens traded receiver Anquan Boldin, the team will now be forced to replace a duo that reeled in a combined 129 catches — approximately 40 percent of Flacco’s total completions — last season.
Eternal optimists will tell you not to worry, that the Ravens always have someone ready to step up.
I’d rather be pessimistic now and pleasantly surprised later. That’s more my style.
After Flacco and running back Ray Rice, I contend that Pitta was the last offensive player that Ravens could afford to lose.
The Ravens have no replacement for Pitta, who is also regarded as Flacco’s closest teammate off the field. Fellow fourth-year tight end Ed Dickson will get the starting role, and although he’s shown he can put up numbers — Dickson caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns in 2011 — he does not have Pitta’s hands or the familiarity with Flacco.
When it comes to weapons in the Ravens’ passing attack, Smith, Jones and an unproven Deonte Thompson all have the kind of speed to get behind defenses and make teams fear the deep ball. However, none offers the physical frame that Pitta (and Boldin as well) possess when it comes to making the tough catches over the middle, an area in Flacco’s game that improved rapidly when Jim Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator toward the end of last season.
This isn’t a knock on any of those receivers’ toughness, it’s simply a statement of fact that none presents the kind of wide-bodied target that Flacco can look for as the pass rush envelops him when a play breaks down.
So, how do the Ravens overcome this injury? Dickson, and recently added free-agent tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, will have to develop a chemistry with Flacco as the season progresses. The team will also revert back to relying heavily on Rice as a ball carrier and as a pass catcher. Although he’s averaged nearly 70 receptions over the last four seasons, expect an even more increased role from Rice as a receiver.
And, don’t forget, the Ravens figure to have a revamped defense this season, which will hopefully place less of a strain on the offense to put up points and provide an advantage in the field-position battle.
Still, my whole point here is that the Ravens have beaten the phrase “next man up” to death. With Pitta there is no next man. There’s only hope that he can return healthy in 2014 without missing a beat.