Through four games in the 2013 NFL season, the Baltimore Ravens sit with just a 2-2 record, currently trailing the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North. The defending Super Bowl champs haven’t looked like a team that’s poised to repeat in any capacity thus far in the season, something they would obviously like to change going forward.
The blame for their slow start this season can be placed on a number of areas. Obviously Joe Flacco having seven interceptions to just five touchdown passes through four games is less than desirable, as is the fact that his offensive line has allowed 12 sacks already this season. Moreover, the injury and lack of performance of running back Ray Rice has caused their offense to struggle. Beyond that, their defense has been average at best thus far into the season.
However, one of the overlooked things about this Ravens team and possibly a contributing factor to Flacco’s struggles is the fact that their receiving core is somewhat of a mess right now. With Jacoby Jones out with injuries and, more importantly, with Anquan Boldin no longer on the roster, their receivers have appeared somewhat discombobulated this season.
To be fair, Torrey Smith has had an expectedly nice season thus far, accruing 435 yards on 21 catches for one touchdown and also giving Baltimore 15 catches for first downs this season. However, the thing about Smith is that he is, simply, a deep-ball receiver. Per advancednflstats.com, Smith currently ranks ninth in the NFL in terms of yards per target at 10.4 yards. He also ranks third in the league in terms of deep pass percentage with 54.8 percent of his targets being 15 or more yards down the field.
The glaring issue that the loss of Boldin leaves the Ravens with is the fact that they don’t have a real possession receiver, someone that can be used as a safety valve in the Baltimore offense. Not only does Flacco need that type of guy to be able to turn to, but that would also help open up Smith for those deep passes.
Looking at their receiving core, the guy that could and needs to emerge as this type of receiver is rookie Marlon Brown. Through the first four weeks, Brown has been productive in terms of getting in the end zone, racking up three touchdown catches, but hasn’t seen a high number of balls thrown his way, having just 14 receptions on 23 targets.
Though Brown is another speedy guy that the Ravens have out there that can be a deep threat, he’s also solid in terms of running short routes and seems as if he can be effective running those types of underneath routes more often. At the very least, Baltimore needs to experiment with Brown in that type of role going forward.
Having a possession receiver, especially alongside a deep threat like Smith, is something that could really open things up for the Ravens and get them headed on a more positive trajectory this season. Brown has been limited or out of practice for most of this past week, so week five might not be the best time to try him out and assess him in this new role, but it’s definitely something the team needs to look to do in the future.
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