The fact that rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown caught four passes against the Carolina Panthers Thursday night has Ravenstown buzzing. With Joe Flacco and the offense in search of viable targets, the sight of a candidate making plays was welcomed, to say the least.
Who cares if many fans had never heard of the undrafted free agent from Georgia until he popped up from the bottom of the depth chart last week and started running with the starters? In desperate times, the only goal is a solution, familiar or otherwise.
But while Brown's receptions were great, what was really interesting and potentially crucial about his performance was that Flacco targeted him four times in the first place in a span of about 20 minutes.
That's a veritable avalanche compared to the opportunities Flacco has given some of the team's other young receivers trying to earn their pass-catching stripes. Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, LaQuan Williams, Aaron Mellette and Tommy Streeter would all give anything for so many chances to prove a kinship with the Ravens' starting quarterback.
But that kinship has to work both ways, of course. Flacco has to feel it, too. In fact, that's all that matters if you're a receiver wanting to play for the Ravens these days. You have to possess whatever that quality is that makes Flacco feel instinctively comfortable targeting you.
Suffice it to say, some of those other receivers don't appear to have it. Flacco hasn't tossed many balls their way. You could hear Doss' concern after the preseason win over Atlanta last week when he said, "I feel comfortable with Joe, but he hasn't been able to hit me yet, and he hasn't looked my way yet, but once we get that going, we should be good."
It's nothing personal. They're all talented, and in any case, I'm sure Flacco's mind isn't paging through his feelings for various guys as they run their routes and he picks a target. The pro game is way too fast for that. Flacco is operating on instinct. See the right target, let the ball go.
It's called chemistry, the right kind, and that's certainly what the Ravens are seeking – targets with whom Flacco feels comfortable now that Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta are gone.
The quarterback is already comfortable throwing to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Smith's record speaks for itself. Jones contributed huge plays last season and looked sharp Thursday night after doing little in the first two preseason games. Newcomer Brandon Stokley has picked right up with Flacco, as if he's been here for years.
But the Ravens are well aware that they need more targets, and they're concerned enough about it that they basically handed over Thursday night's game to their ongoing search. While the rest of the starting offensive unit played into the third quarter, Smith and Jones were out after one quarter. The team's top two wideouts were basically given the night off so the coaches could look for other targets. Keep that in mind when making any assessments about what happened in the game.
Brown, Mellette and Doss were given especially lengthy chances to hook up with Flacco. Mellette was targeted three times and caught two, but just for nine yards. Doss was targeted twice and caught one, just for five yards, and he misread his route on his other chance, resulting in an interception that angered both Flacco and the coaches. Ouch.
Brown was the one who made the most of his chance. He caught a 6-yard slant on a second-quarter drive, then grabbed a 17-yarder by the sideline a few plays later. Early in the third quarter, he caught a 12-yarder comebacker for a first down. That all led up to his big moment, a deep ball over the middle that he reeled in and took to the end zone for a 24-yard score.
You could practically feel Flacco's trust in him growing as the game wore on.
This isn't rocket science. The guy got open and Flacco liked throwing to him. That's exactly what the Ravens are looking for, exactly what they need.
Chemistry, the right kind.
You can't quantify it. You can't predict it. You just know it when you see it.