Heap Stepping Up in Red Zone

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The two touchdowns scored by Ravens tight end Todd Heap in last weekend's 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers harkened back to his sophomore year at Arizona State University, when Heap played a half-season on the Sun Devils' basketball team.

Heap saw action in a mere 11 games for ASU, scoring two points in his collegiate basketball career.

But Sunday on the gridiron, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Heap was matched up against undersized cornerbacks both times, and all he had to do corral a rebound in the end zone.

The plays were reminiscent of Heap's two touchdowns against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 20, when he hauled in five passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns. Then too, Heap exploited a matchup with a defensive back.

When Heap can simply use his size and athletic ability, the Ravens will take those odds any time.

"It was surprising," Heap said. "We were expecting maybe a safety to come out there on me, but I feel good about either matchup."

Heap's first touchdown catch of the Steelers game came in the second quarter. Facing second-and-10 from Pittsburgh's 30-yard line, he split wide with 5-foot-10, 190-pound corner Deshea Townsend defending.

Heap sprinted down the left sideline and turned back for a Joe Flacco bomb near the goal line, out-jumping Townsend before rolling into the end zone.

Later in the third quarter, 5-foot-10, 190-pound corner William Gay drew the Heap assignment at the 7-yard line. Flacco just lobbed a ball to the back of the end zone, and Heap did his best Dennis Rodman impression.

"Todd went up and made those plays," said head coach John Harbaugh. "To see him go up and get those balls is encouraging. He's becoming a playmaker in the red zone again."

The relationship between Heap and Flacco has grown over the young signal-caller's brief career. Flacco obviously is more confident in going to Heap in the red zone, where coverages are more compact and there are less open holes.

It is a trust that can only be developed after tireless offseason repetition and 31 regular-season games played together. It is also a testament to the comfort level of a second year for the duo in coordinator Cam Cameron's offense.

"Todd had a couple last week, and he had a couple this week," Flacco said. "He did a great job of going and getting the ball. I like those matchups when he's out there on those little guys."

On the season, Heap is third on the team with 51 receptions for 553 yards and six touchdowns, production that far and away beats the 35 passes he caught last year for only 403 yards, his fewest in a season where he's played in all 16 games. In 2005 and 2006, he caught 75 and 73 passes, respectively.

Of course, in 2008 Heap was regularly asked to stay in and block.

There have been signs of that this season, as well. Since logging a touchdown in the Ravens' first two games, Heap didn't score again until the Bears matchup. In seven contests, he has caught three or fewer balls. Four times, Heap totaled 16 or fewer yards.

"We're always going to try and get him the ball in a position where he can have success," said Flacco. "It's a luxury to have a guy that is as versatile as he is [blocking and catching]. You don't have to being another guy in when you do want to switch things up."

With the Steelers using smaller defensive backs to cover Heap, might he have been able to add to his touchdown total, or at least help the offense march down the field when it sputtered in the fourth quarter?

For his part, Heap isn't worried about how he's being used.

"We're out there, I'm not really thinking about that," said Heap. "I'm just kind of focusing on the plays that are called and how I can make that play work every single time. The offensive coordinator is thinking big picture, and we were moving the ball quite well at some times, we just couldn't get it in the end zone when we needed to.

"And that was the biggest problem that we had. Especially going down there when we had to have a score, and then to knock ourselves out of that position, that was frustrating."

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