Flacco’s big 3 receivers might not be enough
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.
The Ravens’ Kendrick Lewis forces a fumble on a kickoff return by the Browns’ George Atkinson III in Sunday’s third quarter.