Going into each Baltimore Ravens season, it is essential to look at the quality, depth, and potential of the receiving corps they employ. The reason is simple: when Joe Flacco has receivers, the Ravens are successful.
As Flacco has developed as an NFL quarterback since 2008, the deeper the Ravens have gone in the playoffs has correlated with how well Flacco’s relationships with his receivers are.
In 2008, Flacco had the likes of Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, and Todd Heap, yet the Ravens advanced to the AFC Championship on the back of the best defense Flacco has ever played with. 2008 was Flacco’s weakest group of receivers while making it to either the AFC Championship game or the Super Bowl.
Flacco made strides in 2010 with the receiving corps of Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Todd Heap. The Ravens were stumped in the Divisional Round of the playoffs with no real deep threat to take advantage of Flacco’s cannon right arm.
Over the next two years, Flacco was given the tools needed to succeed as he reached his second AFC Championship and won a Super Bowl.
In 2011 Flacco had his deepest group of receivers up to that point, with Anquan Boldin, rookie Torrey Smith, Ray Rice in his prime, Lee Evans, and two young tight ends in Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. Flacco was one dropped touchdown by Lee Evans away from facing the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. This was also the year Flacco began to flourish in the post season, sparking an intense debate on whether or not he is elite. (He is.)
Finally, in 2012, Flacco was given every tool he needed to win it all. He had great chemistry with Boldin and Pitta (especially in the playoffs), an experienced Torrey Smith paired with Jacoby Jones to take the top off of any defense, and an established dual threat running back in Rice. Flacco went on a tear in the post season, no defense could stop him with these weapons, and he was named Super Bowl MVP.
Two out of the next three years, Flacco’s arsenal was depleted, and neither season ended with a post season berth, with 2014 being the exception.
Boldin was traded (2013), Pitta was injured (2013-2015), Torrey Smith was not resigned (2015), Jones’ production fell off (2014), and Rice was released (2014). With these departures came little instant replacement of production, other than Steve Smith Sr. (2014), who was injured in 2015.
This year is different. Flacco has the most weapons at his disposal that he’s ever had. He completed passes to 10 different targets in his first game, and nine targets in his second.
But is there a real problem with too many targets? Kamar Aiken, who caught 75 passes in 2015, has two receptions. Maxx Williams, a second-round pick in 2015, hasn’t received one target through two games. First-round receiver Breshad Perriman has three catches in his first two NFL games. The only Ravens player who has scored a touchdown is off-season addition Mike Wallace.
Is the ball being spread out so much that it’s taking touchdowns, targets, and yards away from other receivers?
It’s tough to tell after only two games of seeing this offense, but it’s possible. Flacco has never possessed this many targets on one team in the NFL. At most he has been given 2-3 productive wide receivers, 1-2 productive tight ends, and one dual threat running back.
This year Flacco has, realistically, five wide receivers who can produce, three tight ends, and 3-4 running backs (including Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon when he returns).
Obviously, with the rash of injuries the Ravens have had in the past two seasons, it’s easy to see why they loaded up on receivers.
Only time will tell if this number of targets will hinder the offense’s overall production. But, the Ravens head to Jacksonville this week boasting a 2-0 record to face a revamped secondary. If the Ravens keep winning, there will not be any problem at all.