Prior to the 2010 season the Baltimore Ravens overhauled their receiving corps. The off-season included trading for WR Anquan Boldin, the free agent signings of Donte Stallworth and TJ Housmanzadeh, and the drafting of WR David Reed and TE’s Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. The consensus was that the Ravens had significantly upgraded positions of weakness and now they had the types of weapons that would allow the offense to become one capable of big plays, putting teams away with 4th quarter drives and leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl. While the Ravens pass offense was improved, and QB Joe Flacco put up the best #’s of his career, the offense as a whole often stalled and the new acquisitions did not lead to much more wide open, explosive offense.
You can argue whether or not it was the offensive scheme, lack of pass protection, lack of quick decision making by the QB, or lack of speed by the receivers that did the Ravens in this year, but let’s take a closer look at the individual seasons by the Ravens receivers and tight ends.
WR Anquan Boldin– When Boldin was acquired via trade from the Arizona Cardinals, the Ravens felt they finally had the big, physical #1 receiver they have lacked for many years. There have always been question marks about his speed, but few have questioned his play-making ability and his toughness. Boldin was the Ravens leading receiver with 64 catches for 847 yards, and he tied for the team lead with 7 td’s, but he did not seem to have the presence against the top defenses that many thought he would. As for the concerns about his speed, they are valid, especially when you play him opposite other receivers who lack top end speed as well. Boldin’s 2010 has to be considered a bit of a disappointment and it was capped by a bad drop, on what would have been a go ahead touchdown pass in the play-offs. The good news is that Boldin was healthy for a full season and can look to build his rapport with Flacco. Hopefully, he can emerge as Flacco’s preferred target in 2011, who too often looked to his comfort zones of Todd Heap an Derrick Mason.
WR Derrick Mason – Mason had a solid year on the field, but it was marred by some sideline and post game eruptions. Mason is an emotional guy, but there is no excuse for his confrontation with Flacco during the Carolina Panthers game. Mason tied Boldin for the team lead in receiving td’s with 7, and was second in most other receiving categories. he did benefit from drawing a lot of 0ne-on-one coverage as defenses looked to take Boldin away.
WR TJ Housmanzadeh– When he was signed, after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks, during training camp Houshmanzadeh looked like he was going to be a fantastic pick-up. He was another big target for Flacco, who had lots of experience playing the defenses in the AFC North. In hindsight, TJ appears to have been redundant in the Ravens offense. He had some nice moments, especially the game winning TD at Pittsburgh, but he gave opposing defenses nothing different to account for. He is another possession receiver without top end speed and Housh’s hands abandoned him in some key moments including his return game to Cincinnati and in Pittsburgh on the drop that put the nail in the Ravens coffin.
WR’s Donte Stallworth and David Reed– Stallworth andReed were the two receivers that offered variety to the Ravens in terms of their speed and ability to stretch defenses, but they were rarely used in the passing game. Despite injuries, which limited both, it is curious that the pair saw more time on trick running plays and on special teams than as options int eh passing game. I can understand not using Reed as much, but the Ravens needed to find a way to get Stallworth on the field more and open up the middle of the field with his speed. Maybe the Ravens were not convinced Stallworth had much left, or maybe they were worried about keeping the other three receivers happy. Either way, Stallworth was MIA in 2010.
TE Todd Heap – After battling several nagging injuries in 2008, it seemed like the end was near for the longest tenured Raven on offense. But Heap has bounced back with 2 straight solid, and relatively healthy seasons. Heap set a career high in yards per catch at 15, which also lead the team. One one hand it speaks volumes for Heaps ability to bounce back after several injuries, but it is also an indictment of the Ravens offense that their TE was able to stretch the field better than the wideouts. You could argue that Heap’s season was the only of the primary receiving targets that exceeded expectations.
TE’s Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta – With the veteran Heap as the Ravens only reliable TE after the ’09 season, the Ravens selected a pair of rookie TE’s int he 3rd and 4th rounds of the draft. Dickson was given far more opportunities to make plays and showed some flashes. He has great speed and the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. Pitta, likewise, appears to be a capable receiver, who will improve when given the opportunity. Both of the young TE’s need to improve their blocking , as neither showed much as run blockers or in blitz pick up. One area of concern for Dickson was his reported lack of knowledge of the Ravens play book. It is understandable for a rookie to struggle withthe play book in camp and even the early season, but for that to rear it’s head when he was pressed into the starting line-up late in the season, for an injured Heap, is inexcusable. He will need to get the plays down before he can become a fixture in the offense. If he cannot, we may see more of Pitta when Heap eventually hangs them up.
Overall, the Raven receivers have to be considered a unit that underachieved. Again, that is not all on them, but the group needs to get faster and have less redundant talent. As of now both Houshmanzadeh and Stallworth are FA’s. Does either of them come back next year, or do the Ravens look to draft more talent at receiver, and expand David Reed’s role?