How the Baltimore Ravens Can Survive Dennis Pitta Injury

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | So much attention has been paid to Dennis Pitta's season-ending injury that one would think the Baltimore Ravens are now doomed.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King described Pitta as "everything to Flacco." John Nirenberg of the Ravens' official website lamented that Flacco has lost his go-to guy in the red zone and on third down. These are smart guys who think the Ravens are in dire straights after losing Pitta.

As Ravens fans know, though, and Eisenberg recognizes, Ozzie Newsome won't just take this latest development lying down. He and the coaching staff will find ways to account for the loss of Pitta, and the offense will continue to work on becoming a dominant unit.

Here are a few ways the Ravens can make up for Pitta's lost production and save their offense:

Find a Possession Receiver Through Free Agency or Trade

To replace Pitta, the Ravens need to first recognize what he meant to them. Just signing a tight end, as they did recently by adding Visanthe Shiancoe, will not fill Pitta's void. What the Ravens really need to find is a guy that they will trust on key conversion opportunities, a crafty veteran with strong hands and a knack for big catches. Either a receiver or a tight end will do.

Brandon Stokley is still available in free agency, and he now becomes a much more interesting option to help replace Pitta's lost production. Stokley isn't a burner and would not start for the Ravens, but he is crafty, reliable and has a knack for making big catches. He could step in immediately as the slot receiver for the Ravens, though admittedly signing Stokley could hurt the development of the Ravens' young receivers.

Trades are harder to project, but there are a few guys who stand out as possible targets. The Green Bay Packers have ridiculous depth at tight end, making them a potential trade target. Andrew Quarless is a guy who has never has gotten the chance he deserves -- the Ravens could give him that chance.

Another option from Green Bay, albeit a more farfetched one, would be Jermichael Finley. The Ravens would need to do some maneuvering with the salary cap, but Finley is a unique talent who has pretty much worn out his welcome in Green Bay. They would be getting Finley in a contract year, meaning he will be motivated to excel in a big way. Then, the Ravens could re-sign a healthy Pitta to a long-term deal in the offseason and let Finley move on, gaining a compensatory pick in the process. If, and this is a big if, the Ravens find a way to get Finley for a late draft pick, it's worth a look.

Regardless of what happens, know that something is coming. The Ravens won't sit idly by; they will almost certainly make a move. Odds are, no one will see it coming, but it will play a big role in replacing Pitta.

Change the Offensive Scheme

The Ravens were likely to use a lot more two tight-end sets this season thanks to their solid two-deep at the position. Ed Dickson and Pitta would have been one of the better duos in the NFL. Now, the Ravens will have to account for Pitta's loss by changing that up with more two-back and three-wide sets.

Vonta Leach will be a Raven soon/ It's a matter of when, not if. That will allow the Ravens to continue to run two-back sets to form one of the most punishing running attacks in the NFL. They'll be sure to run the ball more often that last season, getting plenty of carries for the two-headed monster of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. That alone should help account for some of Pitta's lost production, as well as opening up play-action passes down the field.

In passing situations, the Ravens will have to use their depth at receiver more than expected, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Ravens have speed at receiver. A three-wide set featuring Jacoby Jones, Torrey Smith and Deonte Thompson would present match-up problems that few defenses could account for. Tandon Doss, meanwhile, could see the field and benefit from the space that his speedy teammates create, making easy catches in the short section of the field.

The Ravens have plenty of options currently on the roster. Jim Caldwell and his offensive staff are certainly visualizing ways to use them, and they'll find a way to keep the offense humming without Pitta.

Just Relax

In 2011, Ed Dickson was the breakout tight end, hauling in 54 receptions and five touchdowns. As starting tight ends go, Dickson will not exactly be bottom of the barrel in 2013.

The Ravens simply need to play to Dickson's strengths. He's not the short-yardage, third-down target that Pitta was. Instead, Dickson is a faster and more athletic tight end that excels at running free down the seam. He has yet to build a connection with Joe Flacco, but those deeper routes down the seam should help them connect quickly.

Further, Ray Rice is still on the roster. He is one of Flacco's favorite third-down targets, albeit as a check-down receiver. The Ravens could easily run a few routes designed to get Rice in space in the flat, picking up third downs that way.

Finally, Kyle Juszczyk is much more of a tight end than an inline fullback at this point in his career. He has strong hands and a knack for making plays after the catch. Sounds a bit like Pitta, doesn't he? Juszczyk will have a learning curve, but he too could account for Pitta's lost production.

Whether or not the Ravens make a move, guys like Juszczyk, Rice and Dickson ensure that this offense will be just fine. There are options in free agency, the trade market and currently on the roster -- something will turn up.

Watching Newsome, John Harbaugh and Caldwell figure out how to replace Pitta will be fun to watch. Keep an eye on the preseason and training camp to see just what they do to keep the offense humming. Whatever it is, the Ravens should be confident that the offense truly will keep humming.

Shawn Brubaker is a graduate of the Catholic University of America. He has been a Baltimore Ravens featured columnist for Bleacher Report for two years and is currently a co-host of Ravens Central Radio.

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