There are many a decision facing the Baltimore Ravens this off-season. Just one season removed from a World Championship, the Ravens failed to make the playoffs for the first time since John Harbaugh has been coach.
An ineffective running game and the inability to stop franchise quarterback, Joe Flacco from getting hit meant the Ravens made no progress on the offensive side of the ball.
Coach Harbaugh appears to be addressing these issues however. He’s brought in Gary Kubiak as offensive co-ordinator. The former Houston Texans coach will work closely with Flacco and the rest of the offense in order to find that magic spark which led the Ravens to victory in 2012.
One important part of this rebuilding process is tight-end Dennis Pitta. During that 2012 run, Pitta had 61 receptions for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. Only Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin had more.
Pitta’s 2013 season was tough from the outset after fracturing his hip during training camp. He was not put on the IR and eventually returned for the final four games of the season. During those four games, Pitta had 33 targets for over 150 yards and a touchdown. With the absence of Anquan Boldin and with Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith simply used as deep threats, Pitta became Flacco’s only safety blanket.
This problem became particularly obvious in the red-zone where the Ravens all too often had to settle for the leg of Justin Tucker in order to score points. In fact the Ravens were 31st in red zone efficiency in 2013, only the Jacksonville Jaguars were worse.
Ray Rice had just four rushing touchdowns in a season where his total rushing yards were slashed in half from the Super Bowl season.
The Ravens offensive problems can be pinpointed to their red-zone ineptitude. Even drives starting in solid starting field position would often end in three points or less. An essentially non-existent running game resulted in consistently tough third down situations for Flacco who was sacked a career record 48 times.
Baltimore need to beef up their offensive line, this would give Ray Rice a better chance of finding the gaps and Flacco more chance of staying on his feet.
They need improvement in this area and I have to believe they’ll do it.
However, to really become the offensive juggernaut that they have to be to get back to the postseason, they need to keep as many of Flacco’s weapons as possible.
Just look at what happened to Tom Brady in New England last year without top level receivers for most of the season. The AFC Championship game was the absolute maximum that team could achieve.
Re-signing Dennis Pitta will likely not be cheap for Baltimore, good tight-ends come at a premium but they could use a franchise tag as a last resort which would be in the region of $7 million.
That would test the Ravens cap to the max especially with improvements needed in both receiving corps and up front but an extension for Pitta could allow the Ravens to be truly explosive in 2014.