Since the Ravens arrived in Baltimore, the tight end has always been a big part of their passing game.
Dating to 2000, the team has had a tight end finish among its top three in receptions all but three seasons. Shannon Sharpe (2000-01) started that run before giving way to a decade of Todd Heap (2002-10), who has since given way to the duo of Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta the last two seasons.
Dickson and Pitta broke out as second-year players in 2011, finishing with a combined 94 receptions for 933 yards and eight touchdowns. Dickson led the way with 54 catches for 528 yards and five scores.
Overall, they have been nearly as much of a factor this year. Pitta ranks second on the team with 37 receptions, third with 376 receiving yards and second with three touchdown catches. Dickson has added 12 receptions for 144 yards.
Pitta got 2012 off to an attention-grabbing start with 18 catches for 188 yards and two touchdowns over his first three games. In all, quarterback Joe Flacco connected with his tight ends 23 times over the first three contests.
But then the tight ends pretty much disappeared.
After averaging a combined 7.7 catches over the Ravens’ first three games, Pitta and Dickson followed with just 3.8 per contest over the next five games, including none in a Sept. 27 win over the Browns. Part of the reason was a rough run for Flacco and the passing game. But on the flip side, their lack of involvement had something to do with their diminished level of play.
That’s what made their role in Sunday’s victory over Oakland so noticeable. The duo was back to early season form, combining for seven receptions, 126 yards and a touchdown.
Pitta made his first scoring catch since Sept. 23 and Dickson made a 40-yard grab, his longest since his rookie season in 2010. Pitta was glad the tight ends had an increased impact Sunday.
“It felt good to be a part of it early, and both Ed and I were excited about this game,” Pitta said. “We knew we were part of the plan, and Joe did a good job of getting us balls early. And I think that set the tone for the offense. We were able to have a great day.
“We were able to take advantage of some of the things we saw on film, and it ended up being a good day for us.”
On Sunday, coach John Harbaugh and Flacco downplayed the idea that using the tight ends more was a greater part of the game plan for the Raiders than against other opponents.
But both recognized Dickson and Pitta for how well they played, and how it helped wideouts Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones.
“You go out there, and you run the plays, and when calls go to them, and we execute right, they’re going to have big catches,” Flacco said. “They were probably guys that had (chances) early in the game because they were going to be the guys that were getting singled with the linebackers and things like that, and they did that. And then, as the game progressed, it kind of allowed us to get the ball to Torrey, Anquan, Jacoby, all those guys.”
Said Harbaugh: “I thought Ed Dickson, seeing him play the way he did was big for us. He has so much talent, and he really stepped up and played well.”