It was just one catch in a preseason game, but for those keeping a close eye on the Baltimore Ravens over the last few years, receiver Lee Evans' 35-yard score from Joe Flacco in the second quarter of the Ravens' Thursday night 34-31 win over the Washington Redskins had to be an encouraging sign:
That there is some pretty stuff. Evans, the former Buffalo Bills speed receiver who was acquired on August 12 for a fourth-round pick, showed a textbook version of how to run a go route. He took the cornerback (Washington's DeAngelo Hall) to outside position, simply beat him on the track, used his hands to (legally) separate from the defender at full speed, kept his eyes on the ball, and drew in the perfect rainbow pass from Flacco. Hall isn't the elite defender some make him out to be, but he's quick enough to make this play sufficiently impressive.
For a Ravens offense that has been steady but decidedly stodgy from a deep-ball perspective through the past few years, the Evans acquisition could be huge, and it's not too much of a stretch to assume that if he can do this all year, Flacco will finally have the deep consistent target his rocket arm can handle. And going up against a Pittsburgh Steelers team at least twice a year in what has become the NFL's best rivalry, the Ravens had learned the value of speed receivers form the other side of the fence. While Pittsburgh has developed a deep aerial attack with Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders, the Ravens had Derrick Mason leading their team among qualifying receivers with a 13.15 yards per reception average, good for 31st in the league. Wallace was second behind Philly's DeSean Jackson at 20.95.
Evans averaged 15.6 yards per catch last season, and he was doing so at a distinct disadvantage — there have been no quarterbacks on the Bills' roster in the last few seasons capable of drilling the ball downfield in a way that suited his talents. And until Stevie Johnson developed into a quality receiver, Evans was seeing almost constant double-teams. Evans' move to Baltimore was a situation that suited player and new team perfectly. The Ravens drafted Maryland speedster Torrey Smith and took a look at Chargers burner Malcom Floyd before Floyd re-signed with San Diego, which makes obvious Baltimore's awareness of their vertical needs.
Evans has six catches for 128 yards and that touchdown in his first preseason with the Ravens.
And if this one play is any indication, the Ravens now have what they have been missing. A team that has won 32 regular-season games in the last three seasons but hasn't been able to get over the hump in the playoffs might have finally found the missing ingredient.