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Eisenberg: Not Buying Ravens Run More Without Pitta

Posted Jul 30, 2013

BaltimoreRavens.com columnist John Eisenberg offers five thoughts on the loss of Dennis Pitta.

Five thoughts on the Ravens losing tight end Dennis Pitta for the season with a dislocated hip:

I’m not buying the opinion that the Ravens are going to run the ball more now that Vonta Leach is back and quarterback Joe Flacco is without Pitta and Anquan Boldin, his two favorite mid-range targets from 2012. Injuries and contracts shouldn’t impact what coaches do. (For instance, I’m also not buying the opinion that they should throw more now because they signed Flacco to a $120.6 million contract. Huh?) The Ravens rolled through the playoffs last season with an offense that neatly balanced the run and pass, and I’m expecting Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell to roll out a facsimile of the same attack this season, regardless of who is in uniform. The Ravens need that to be at their best – balance on offense. So the issue is figuring out how to replace Pitta’s production, not how to tap-dance around his absence by running the ball more.

Since Pitta was Flacco’s security blanket, especially in the red zone, there’s no denying his loss is a shot to the gut, creating another obstacle for the Ravens to overcome as they try to replicate their Super Bowl season.  But anyone who believes the season is over (I know you’re out there) should think back to last season when Lardarius Webb went out with a season-ending knee injury in October. The news cast a similar pall on Ravenstown because it seemed impossible that the Ravens could go far without their top pass defender; they didn’t have a proven replacement. But Corey Graham stepped in and developed into a key contributor as the Ravens gathered steam and went all the way. Not all injuries are overcome so readily, but the point is it’s too soon to declare the season over. Pitta will be sorely missed, no doubt, but give it time. See what develops. You might be surprised.

The decision to trade Boldin was already being second-guessed more than any other of the Ravens’ offseason moves, and this injury will only increase that chatter. It was thought that the biggest drawback to going without Boldin or a “name” replacement was that the Ravens needed growth from within to fill the hole, i.e., young players to step up, and there’s no guarantee that would happen. But another drawback was that it left the pass receiving corps especially thin. As one source said to me during the offseason, “What if Torrey Smith gets hurt?” Well, it turns out Pitta, not Smith, was injured, but the impact is similar. Now the Ravens need more production out of more guys who don’t have long track records. Not easy.

The next man up at Pitta’s spot is Ed Dickson, who has shared the tight end load and actually compiled more starts than Pitta. It’s on him to step up, and he came to training camp seemingly intent on doing just that, even before Pitta was injured. He looks good. But it’s going to take more than one guy to fill in, especially if Caldwell uses a lot of two-tight end sets. The injury really is a test of the entire organization. Did the front office draft a starting-caliber tight end when they took Dickson? Can the front office find other players who can help pick up the slack? Can the coaches develop a scheme that works without such an important piece? The answers to all those questions are crucial. Paraphrasing an old maxim, it takes a village to withstand such a blow. The good news for the Ravens is their organization is lauded as one of the best. You need that strength at times like this.

Forget what the injury means to the team, the offense or anything football-related. This is a rough break for a good guy. Pitta has been a class act from the moment he walked into the Ravens’ locker room –always available to reporters, often with a smile on his face. He also has worked hard to develop from a fourth-round pick into a key player, and he was on the verge of cashing in with a major contract next year. Football players know they play a rugged sport and a serious injury is always possible, but a hip dislocation is rare. Pitta faces a long comeback. The early prognosis is favorable and here’s hoping that doesn’t change.

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