Ravens Get Taste Of New-Look Passing Game


During the first half of season, Steve Smith Sr. was basically option one, two, three and four in the passing game. The veteran receiver was clearly the top playmaker of Baltimore's offense, and quarterback Joe Flacco did everything possible to get the football in his hands.

Smith's season-ending Achilles tear left a massive void in Baltimore's offense, forcing the Ravens to find the production elsewhere.

The matchup with the Jaguars Sunday was the first chance to see what life would look like without Smith, and the play of the receiving corps was a positive sign for the Ravens going into the final seven games of the year.

"We threw the ball better," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Our passing game made some strides. We protected well for the vast most part. Joe made a lot of really good throws. Guys made plays."

Flacco finished the day with 316 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He spread the ball around to 10 targets, as four receivers, all three tight ends, both running backs and the fullback hauled in receptions.

The receiving corps largely stepped up in Smith's absence, with top wideout Kamar Aiken taking his place as the most-targeted option. Aiken had 14 passes thrown his way, and he finished with seven catches for 73 yards. On the flip side, he did drop a key pass early in the game and also had another bounce of his hands to get intercepted.

"We did some things pretty well," Aiken said. "There were some things we could've done better. I'll have to take a look at the tape. I know there are two plays that come to my mind that I felt like I could have done better on, or made a play on."

While Aiken was the top target, the Ravens turned to wideout Chris Givens as their big-play threat. He stepped into the starting lineup and caught four passes for 37 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown for his first score as a Raven.

Flacco also threw a deep shot Givens' direction when the receiver tried a double move, but the pass was underthrown and intercepted. The timing looked off on the play, and Givens said the key is for him and Flacco to get fully in sync after he arrived in Baltimore via trade last month.

"On a scale of 1-10, I think we're like a 7-8," Givens said about his timing with Flacco. "Just with time, and putting in the work Tuesday through Saturday, that's going to get us to that 10. I feel like the way we're working and how we're doing things, and putting in the work and communicating, that's just going to come. It's going to come pretty fast."

The Ravens have also started to work more pieces into the passing game. Rookie tight end Maxx Williams had the best game of his young career, and wide receiver Jeremy Butler also played in his first NFL game.

Flacco didn't hesitate to get Butler involved, throwing him a back shoulder pass down the sidelines for a 21-yard gain. Butler was a highlight reel during the offseason practices with some of his acrobatic catches, and the Ravens hope that potential translates into the games.

"Jeremy has been practicing really well, especially the last couple weeks," Harbaugh said. "The tempo of his practice, the speed that he's playing at, has ramped up a little bit. He has always been a guy that can really make plays on the ball, as you all know. I'm really excited to see him play more and more as we go forward."

The quality of the receiving corps has been questioned all season, even before Smith's injury. The group consists of five undrafted prospects, a player acquired in a midseason trade and an injured first round pick.

They still have plenty of work ahead of them to build on their outing against the Jaguars, but the receivers did get a sense from Flacco that he believes the group can come up with big plays in the future. 

"It's positive with Joe having more confidence in us and knowing we're going to go out there and make plays for him," Givens said. 

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