Ravens offense leaning on Pitta since return

Ravens offense leaning on Pitta since return
December 17, 2013, 3:15 pm
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There are plenty of numbers to consider if you want to count out the 8-6 Ravens.

* Baltimore is ranked 29th in yards per game with 309.9.
* The team is ranked 29th in rushing yards per game with 82.9.
* It ranks 25th in points per game: 21.1.
* The team has a -2 giveaway/takeaway ratio.
* Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown 18 touchdowns to 17 interceptions.

New England, in preparing to face the Ravens at M&T Stadium this Sunday, is focused on something else entirely: four-straight wins.

Yes, far from going gently into the good night after going 4-6 through its first 10 games, Baltimore has turned it on just in time for a playoff push.

Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia doesn't see the Week 14 return of tight end Dennis Pitta to be a coincidence.

"Obviously this is an extremely good football player, someone that is key in their offensive system," Patricia said. "He’s a big guy, big target, got a good catch radius, and just does an excellent job of understanding coverage and finding open spaces, understanding leverage. I think he’s moving around real well."

Pitta, who had the second-most receptions (61) on the team last season, dislocated and fractured his right hip on the second day of Ravens training camp. The injury required surgery and he was sidelined for the team's first 12 games.

He has eight catches for 72 yards and a touchdown in two games.

"They’re bringing him back as soon as he’s ready to go, and then he looks obviously like he’s still an impact player in their system and in their offense," Patricia noted. "That position is a key position for them, and certainly with Pitta’s presence back he does a good job, which is really getting open off of the defenders. He’s a physical guy, so he can body them up and use his size and his strength to help him create separation in space, which is something he can rely on as he’s coming back."

You know Flacco is relying on him.

It's hard to find anything nice to say about that touchdown-to-interception ratio, but things have actually trended toward the positive -- 13 touchdowns and 9 picks -- after the quarterback threw 5-to-8 in the first five games.

No, it's not an astounding turnaround.

Yet Flacco's play can only get better with a reliable target like Pitta back on the field. If nothing else, the tight end has opened things up over the middle of the field. If linebackers have to drop deeper to worry about Pitta, Baltimore's running backs have more room to make plays. Ray Rice, who's struggled uncharacteristically this season, has had his second and third-best rushing averages in the last two games.

"Turnovers are – they happen as part of the game, and we obviously are going to take a look at them and see if there’s any opportunity for us to take advantage in those situations," Patricia said cautiously. "But I think [Flacco's] done a great job, and really going off the last time we played him, and I just through his ability to take care of the ball, be smart with the placement of the ball, and really, as you look at it also, to be able to move and get away from pressure and trouble.

"I think, if you take a look at it, he’s really doing a good job of trying to take care of the ball here and not have those turnovers. I think that’s something that they’ve focused a lot of attention on here recently."

Indeed. Despite earlier struggles the Ravens offense is playing better now. 

And "now" is the only thing New England cares about.