Back healthy, Pitta further establishing himself as key part of Ravens offense

Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta celebrates after scoring a touchdown with wide receiver Jacoby Jones in the second half of the Ravens' 44-13 win over the Bengals Monday.
Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta celebrates after scoring a touchdown with wide receiver Jacoby Jones in the second half of the Ravens' 44-13 win over the Bengals Monday. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

OWINGS MILLS - Joe Flacco's intentions were obvious from the moment he received the snap.

Scanning the defense, Flacco had noticed Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta being covered by a smaller Cincinnati Bengals defender, a mismatch in Flacco's mind.

So upon receiving the shotgun snap, Flacco took only three quick steps before lofting the ball toward the end zone in the direction of the 6-foot-4 Pitta.

Bengals cornerback Leon Hall actually had decent coverage on the play, but was no match for the taller Pitta once the ball was in the air. Making it look routine, Pitta tracked the ball in the air, worked his way in front of Hall, looking like a basketball player positioning for a rebound, before out-leaping Hall to make the catch for a 10-yard touchdown.

"They blitzed everybody on that play and we had one-on-one coverage across the board," Pitta said. "I had a smaller guy on me and Joe saw a mismatch. I just kind of was able to box him out a little bit, and Joe put the ball up where only I would be able to go up and get it."

The touchdown was one of a team-high five catches for Pitta in Monday's season-opening blowout of Cincinnati.

Returning from the broken right hand he suffered during the first week of training camp, Pitta was targeted nine times and led Baltimore with 73 receiving yards.

Three of Pitta's five catches produced first downs, including a key 23-yard grab during the third quarter that came with the Ravens leading by just four and the offense backed up to its own 6-yard line.

Pitta hauled in his touchdown just eight plays later to extend Baltimore's lead to 24-13.

He added another big gain on the Ravens' next drive, pulling in a 25-yard pass from Flacco that helped set up a 40-yard Justin Tucker field goal.

"Dennis is a great, great player for us," Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith said. "I always say he's kind of like a receiver that plays tight end. He's so smooth, runs great routes and catches everything. To have him as an outlet, especially in the middle, for Joe is a great fit."

Pitta and fellow tight end Ed Dickson both figure to once again play prominent roles within the Ravens' offense.

The two combined for 92 catches last season and combined for seven catches Monday night.

"Our tight ends are going to have to be [big]," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "Tight ends are a big part of this deal - big receivers up the middle is something I think the NFL is moving towards and you've got two athletic guys that can really catch the ball."

But while Dickson played the bigger role last season, especially early on, Pitta appears poised to make the bigger contributions this year.

He's seen his role progressively expanding since the middle of last season.

He had three catches or more in seven of the Ravens' final 11 regular season games, including six catches for 62 yards and a touchdown in a pivotal 24-16 win against Cincinnati in the regular season finale that propelled Baltimore to an AFC North division title and a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

Pitta finished the year with 40 catches for 405 yards and three scores.

He added seven catches for 70 yards in two playoff games, including five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown during the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship.

Smith envisions Pitta being an even bigger part of the offense this year.

"He's going to have a huge year," Smith said. "He's a great tight end and another great weapon."

And he should only benefit from the increased attention likely to be paid to speedsters Smith and Jacoby Jones on the outside.

"Yeah, it certainly helps to have the kind of speed that we do on the outside," Pitta said. "You have to send a couple of guys going at those guys when they go deep, so it opens things up for us and allows us to get into those holes."