As Steve Smith settles into Ravens' new passing offense, others try to find footing
By By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun|
Sep 18, 2014 at 8:48 PM
Before Steve Smith's arrival this offseason, Torrey Smith was the Ravens' unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver. That has changed somewhat this season.
Eluding cornerbacks with quick moves or tossing them aside with a mean stiff arm, wide receiver Steve Smith has been busy establishing himself as the Ravens' top offensive weapon through two games.
Smith has been thrown to a team-high 25 times heading into Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, making 13 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown. Signed to a three-year, $11 million contract in March, the five-time Pro Bowl selection quickly has become the featured wide receiver that Andre Johnson was in Gary Kubiak's Houston Texans offense.
But it's been an altogether different experience for wide receiver Torrey Smith. The former Maryland standout has just four receptions for 60 yards and no touchdowns on 10 targets. His biggest play so far has been drawing a pass-interference penalty against Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen that led to a touchdown for tight end Owen Daniels.
Torrey Smith has spent the majority of the first two games in Kubiak's new offense running fly patterns, helping to clear out space underneath for other receivers and tight ends.
"We all have that responsibility at times, but I might have it a little more than an average person because of the way teams respect me getting over the top," Smith said. "But I'm playing my part, and I know the ball is going to come more than it has been. So I'm not frustrated at all.
"It's not like [Kubiak] goes into it [saying], 'Hey, we're going to throw the ball to this guy a thousand times and this guy not at all.' It's all about the way the coverage dictates it."
Before Steve Smith's arrival this offseason, Torrey Smith was the Ravens' unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver. Last season, he caught 65 passes for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns.
Now that the Ravens have acquired Steve Smith and overhauled their offense in Kubiak's vision, with run-centric game plans and several double-tight end formations, Torrey Smith has had to adjust. But just because the season has started this way doesn't mean Smith's involvement in the offense won't grow.
"Torrey is a great receiver, so he's going to get his touches," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It's not going to be a week-to-week thing where he's not touching the ball a lot."
When Kubiak was the Texans' head coach, Houston's offensive workload had a similar distribution. Johnson was a constant fixture in a game plan that also featured an element of power football led by star running back Arian Foster. Tight ends, including Daniels and Garrett Graham, were always an important part of the offense.
"Andre is one of the greatest to ever do it, so it was in our best interests down there to get him the ball," said Daniels, a two-time Pro Bowl selection for the Texans. "Steve has been doing it for a long time at a really high level. I've watched Steve play for a long time, but I've gained even more of an appreciation for how good of a player he is here."
With the Ravens ninth in the NFL this season in total offense (373 yards per game) and 12th in passing offense (247.5 yards per game), Kubiak isn't inclined to change his offensive approach.
"We're going to attack the defense, and where the ball goes, it goes," Kubiak said. "We don't call a play and say, 'Throw it to him.' We're going to throw where we're supposed to throw it. Our tight ends have been very productive in what they're doing. Our backs have caught the ball well.
"I'd like to think that we can be balanced and the ball can get spread all over the place. Torrey is working extremely well; he's had a great week this week. I complimented him on how well he's practiced. I think those things will even out."
Pitta has been targeted 18 times for 13 receptions and 113 yards, and Daniels had a pair of touchdown passes against the Steelers and has nine catches for 62 yards on 11 targets.
"We have so many guys who can make plays, so it's kind of hard sometimes because there's only one ball to go around," Daniels said. "Sometimes this offense comes in spurts. You could have a bunch of targets one game and not many the next.
"Joe is good about taking what the defense is giving him. I think guys will have pretty good numbers this year, but I just think it's just going to be more spread out in terms of a lot of guys contributing."
Torrey Smith isn't alone in his diminished production among the team's wide receivers.
Jacoby Jones caught 37 passes for 455 yards and two touchdowns last season. This year, he has just three passes for 20 yards on eight targets.
Marlon Brown caught 49 passes for 524 yards and led the team with seven touchdowns as a rookie last season. This year, he has no catches on no targets and plays mostly special teams.
"I came in with an open heart and an open mind about my role," Brown said. "If it changes or doesn't change, I'm fine with everything. I'm good. My time will come. I'm just being patient."
Kyle Juszczyk, an All-Ivy League player at Harvard who took over as the starting fullback this year when Vonta Leach was released, has been used strictly as a lead blocker, with no passes thrown to him so far.
Juszczyk showed excellent hands in the preseason and is regarded as a versatile player capable of lining up at H-back, tight end or as a slot receiver. His role early this season, though, has been to block.
"I feel like I've showed our coaches what I can do," Juszczyk said. "I'm just being patient. We're evolving every week. Coach Kubiak told us that we're a team that doesn't rely on one just guy, and we have a lot of weapons.
"I feel like each week, it could be someone else's number called. As we go forward, it could be a lot of different guys."
Flacco has completed 56 of 91 passes for 511 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for an 83.2 quarterback rating and appears to be gaining a comfort level in Kubiak's offense. As far as where he's throwing the football, Flacco said he's simply going through his progressions and targeting the open man as much as possible.
"We put the game plan in to get everybody involved and get everybody the ball," Flacco said. "You get your playmakers the ball in their hands, so they can make some plays. Come Sunday, it's about calling the plays and going out there and just running it, hitting the open guy, going through my reads and seeing where the ball is supposed to go.
"I don't really worry too much about who the ball is going to on Sunday. If our game plan works out well and we play a good game on offense, then there's going to be pretty good distribution and you're going to see a lot of guys getting into the game."