Dennis Pitta emerged as one of the game's top tight ends last season, and he may play an even bigger role this year to help offset the loss in* *Anquan Boldin's production.
Using Pitta to make up for the loss of Boldin is a logical transition, as the fourth-year tight end has a similar skill set to the veteran wideout.
The comparison between the two starts with their hands.
Both are sure-handed receivers that hardly ever drop passes. They were two of Flacco's favorite targets last year (Boldin 112 targets, Pitta 93) and can make tough catches in traffic. Over the last two years, Pitta and Boldin have made countless catches with their fingertips, especially when they get down close to the end zone.
Just looking through Boldin's 2012 highlights, it's easy to notice all the tough grabs he made last season. There weren't many easy catches out of his 65 receptions.
The ability to haul in passes with defenders draped over them is critical, as neither player is known for their breakaway speed. Like Boldin, Pitta exploits mismatches against linebackers and has a knack for finding the soft spot in the defense. As a tight end, Pitta isn't expected to have blazing speed, but he can still outrun linebackers and stretch the defense over the middle.
Another striking similarity between the two players is that both have the ability to win one-on-one battles. Sometimes when Joe Flacco was in trouble, he'd heave it in the direction of Boldin or Pitta and bet on his player to simply beat the defender. That approach often worked in the Ravens' favor, just like on the 3rd-and-1 play in the Super Bowl.
Pitta compares to Boldin in a number of areas, but the two targets do have some differences in their game. Boldin is known as a superior downfield blocker, always looking to spring a ball carrier free for a big gain. Pitta has better size, and at 6-foot-4 he's able to leap over defenders to haul receptions.
The two targets are both physical players, always looking for extra yardage. While some receivers shy away from contact once they get the ball in their hands, Pitta turns his eyes upfield and looks to pick up additional yards. Boldin had the same kind of physical presence.