Flacco’s big 3 re­ceivers might not be enough

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Mike Pre­ston

The Ravens have pretty much nar­rowed their re­ceiv­ing corps down to the big three, but is this group good enough to get them deep into the post­sea­son?

At the start of train­ing camp, the Ravens had a plethora of re­ceivers, and the coach­ing staff raved about the depth, but af­ter two games it’s clear that three play­ers in their 30s — wide re­ceivers Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wal­lace and tight end Den­nis Pitta — are the pri­mary play­mak­ers.

Are they good enough — and healthy enough — to change the course of games against qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion and last an en­tire sea­son?

It’s in­ter­est­ing how this has played out be­cause sec­ond-year re­ceiver Bre­shad Per­ri­man was ex­pected to chal­lenge Wal­lace

for a start­ing po­si­tion, and no one knew for sure about the sta­tus of Pitta or Smith, who were re­cov­er­ing from ma­jor in­juries.

But Wal­lace, Smith and Pitta took most of the snaps at their po­si­tions in the Ravens’ 25-20 come-from-be­hind vic­tory against the Cleve­land Browns on Sun­day.

Smith had three catches for 64 yards, in­clud­ing two key re­cep­tions to open the third quar­ter. Wal­lace had four catches for 41 yards, but two were for touch­downs.

And Pitta was quar­ter­back Joe Flacco’s go-to re­ceiver as the Browns al­lowed him to get off the line of scrim­mage cleanly all af­ter­noon. He fin­ished with nine catches for 102 yards.

It was a good day for those three, but you’d still like to see them against qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion. Right now, the Ravens are reap­ing the ben­e­fits of play­ing a weak sched­ule.

The Buf­falo Bills, the Ravens’ op­po­nent in the sea­son opener, were ex­pected to have a good de­fense this sea­son but are miss­ing key play­ers and were torched for 37 points against the New York Jets last week af­ter al­low­ing 13 to the Ravens. The Browns, well, they are the Browns. On Sun­day, the Ravens seemed to sep­a­rate the starters from the re­serves. Backup re­ceivers Ka­mar Aiken and Per­ri­man each played only 31 out of 75 snaps; pass-catch­ing full­back Kyle Juszczyk and tight end Maxx Wil­liams com­bined for 38 snaps.

It’s a good sit­u­a­tion hav­ing young re­ceivers with fresh legs such as Per­ri­man and Chris Moore com­ing off the bench, and Aiken can fill in on the out­side or in the slot if some­one gets in­jured.

One ma­jor con­cern, though, is Pitta’s health and whether he can hold up the en­tire sea­son. Af­ter Sun­day’s game, you can al­most guar­an­tee op­po­nents will be more phys­i­cal with him at the line of scrim­mage.

If he does go down, nei­ther Wil­liams nor third year-player Crock­ett Gill­more can fill his role.

At wide re­ceiver, Smith can still snag the ball, but he doesn’t get sep­a­ra­tion any­more. It’s hard, though, keep­ing him out of the lineup be­cause of his tenac­ity and lead­er­ship.

Wal­lace has all three of the Ravens’ touch­downs this sea­son, but he isn’t spe­cial, not of the le­git­i­mate No. 1 va­ri­ety. Most play­off teams have star wide re­ceivers, with two of the best be­ing in the AFC North — An­to­nio Brown of the Steel­ers and A.J. Green of the Cincin­nati Ben­gals.

The Ravens have no player who can dom­i­nate a game the way the Min­nesota Vik­ings’ Ste­fon Diggs (Mary­land) did Sun­day night against the Green Bay Pack­ers.

That’s not to say teams can’t go deep into the play­offs with­out a su­per­star at re­ceiver. The New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots have done it, and so have the Seat­tle Sea­hawks. The Ravens did it in 2000 with Qadry Is­mail, Pa­trick John­son and tight end Shan­non Sharpe, who was past his prime.

But those teams also had other things in com­mon. Seat­tle and the Ravens had top-ranked de­fenses, and the Ravens and the Pa­tri­ots fea­tured two of the top play­ers ever to play the game in line­backer Ray The Ravens’ Steve Smith Sr. (89) blocks the Browns’ Ja­mar Tay­lor, let­ting Den­nis Pitta gain 30 yards on a third-down re­cep­tion Sun­day. The Ravens fin­ished the drive with a touch­down. Lewis and quar­ter­back Tom Brady.

It’s early in the sea­son, and it will be in­ter­est­ing to find out if Flacco can de­velop chem­istry with his big three.

He surely sounded con­fi­dent af­ter the Ravens ral­lied Sun­day against the Browns from a 20-point deficit. The Ravens came back by spread­ing the ball with­out the aid of a strong run­ning game.

Flacco worked the mid­dle of the field with Pitta. He worked the side­lines with Smith. Wal­lace ran ev­ery­thing from out routes to a skinny post.

If it worked then, it can work in the fu­ture. Right?

We’ll see in a cou­ple of weeks when the com­pe­ti­tion gets bet­ter. The Ravens re­ally have no other op­tions.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

The Ravens’ Ken­drick Lewis forces a fum­ble on a kick­off re­turn by the Browns’ Ge­orge Atkin­son III in Sun­day’s third quar­ter.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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