When Dennis Pitta caught six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown in his return to the field in Week 14, it was seen as a sign of big things to come for the Ravens tight end. But over his past two games, Pitta has just six receptions on 11 targets -- as many as he had three weeks ago against the Minnesota Vikings.
Teams know that quarterback Joe Flacco likes to look Pitta's way on third down and inside the red zone, as Pitta is probably his most trusted pass-catcher. And with Torrey Smith and other Ravens wide receivers struggling to get open against single-high safety looks, defenses have been able to focus on taking away Pitta.
Pitta said that in last Monday’s win over the Detroit Lions, the Lions used bracket coverage to keep him from wiggling free in the middle part of the field. In the blowout loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, the Patriots used a more physical approach to literally rattle Pitta as he tried to get off the line.
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“We call it a hit call. They pretty much had guys whenever he was at the line within striking range of the box, defensive ends came out and took shots at him,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I think they were hitting him pretty much every opportunity within five yards on crossing routes and things like that. So they did quite a bit to keep him under control.”
As a result, Pitta, who played just 30 of their 76 offensive snaps, was held to four catches for 34 yards and also saw an off-target Flacco pass clank off his hands for an interception.
“This is football,” Pitta said. “Sometimes the ball just doesn’t go your way. Sometimes you make uncharacteristic mistakes, and they capitalize on those things. It just got away from us.”
So far this season, Pitta has been mostly targeted within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He has been targeted 14 times within that range, catching nine passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus. He has been targeted just six times beyond 10 yards from the line and has yet to catch a pass thrown 20 or more yards downfield.
Finding soft spots won't get any easier for Pitta against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have defended tight ends well this season. Only the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills have allowed fewer yards to tight ends, according to ESPN.