Heading into the 2012 season, the Baltimore Ravens offense must improve upon its No. 19 ranked passing attack from a season ago.
While quarterback Joe Flacco continues to make strides and steadily improve, he will benefit from the continued progression of third-year tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
Following the lockout last season, the decision to release Todd Heap was questioned by many experts. But it was a move that worked out well for Dickson and Pitta, both of whom combined to give the Ravens plenty of production.
The two tight ends combined for 94 catches, 933 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Dickson hauled in 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns and Pitta recorded 40 catches for 405 yards and three touchdowns.
If they can increase their production this season, it would benefit a passing game that has been looking to take the next step for the past few years.
Additionally, because one of the strengths of the Ravens passing game is executing on the short and intermediate passes, the continued progression made by Dickson and Pitta will help the Ravens offense win the time of position battles.
Now that the Ravens have two good tight ends as opposed to just one, it gives Flacco more weapons and options to play with.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can use Dickson and Pitta in a number of different ways. He can line them up as traditional tight ends, receivers on the outside or in the slot and even in the backfield.
Although Dickson is considered the more athletic of the two, Pitta has the more reliable hands.
Last season, Dickson had a drop in each of the Ravens’ two postseason games. In fact, in Baltimore’s AFC Championship Game loss against the New England Patriots, he a had crucial third down drop near the end of the first half that would have extended a drive into Patriots territory.
Interestingly enough, both tight ends seemed to end 2011 on the opposite side of the spectrum.
After catching 10 passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns in week 10 at Seattle, Dickson didn’t have more than three catches in a single game. Over the final four games combined, he had just six receptions for 71 yards.
Meanwhile, Pitta excelled over the course of the final three games in the regular season, notching 13 receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
As rookie’s, however, Dickson was the more productive of the two. In 2010, Dickson started three games while playing in 15 and was on the receiving end of 11 Flacco passes for 152 yards and one score.
Pitta got into 11 games and caught a single pass for one yard.
But let’s not forget that Dickson and Pitta both got their first taste of meaningful playing time this past season.
With more experience and playing time, will come increased production for this tight end duo.
That being said, with Torrey Smith likely to improve in his second year, the Ravens will have a much improved downfield passing attack.
If Dickson and Pitta keep developing and improving, they’ll draw more attention, which will make it tougher for opposing team’s defenses to focus in on stopping just one or two players.