Ravens coach John Harbaugh has told wide receiver Chris Moore several times over the past two seasons how much he believes in him. On Monday, a day after Moore had a key drop of a third-down pass and was held without a catch in the Ravens’ 27-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns, Harbaugh told everybody else.
“I feel like it is time for him to break out,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes, I want to say, ‘Do you realize how talented you are? Do you really, in your heart, understand how good you can be?’ He is going to be a special player. When he gets the ball in his hands, you can see the talent and the speed. He plays as fast or faster than anyone we have when you calculate game speed. We are looking for big things from him, for sure. I would like for it to be [Saturday] afternoon, too. That would be great.”
A smiling Harbaugh then looked toward the cameras in the back of the team auditorium and said, “You hear that, Chris?”
With Jeremy Maclin listed as doubtful on the injury report with a knee injury and not expected to play in Saturday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens badly need one or two of their younger receivers to step in across from Mike Wallace and play a significant role in the push for an AFC wild-card berth.
It could be Moore, 24, or Michael Campanaro, 26, two players who have made their biggest impact on special teams. It could be 2015 first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman, 24, who went from a perceived breakout candidate to a healthy scratch by midseason.
It just has to be somebody.
“This is definitely a chance for everyone just to go out there and make a name for themselves,” said Campanaro, the team’s primary punt returner. “These are the most important games of the season. We can’t lose one to get into the playoffs. You make plays in December and January, and it carries a lot of weight around the league. For all the guys — myself, Chris Moore, BP — we have to step up and make plays.”
To this point, the Ravens have gotten by with sporadic offensive contributions from their secondary receivers. Quarterback Joe Flacco has relied primarily on Wallace (43 catches for 648 yards and three touchdowns), Maclin (40 catches for 440 yards and three touchdowns) and a cadre of tight ends and backs. Tight end Benjamin Watson and running back Buck Allen are the team’s leading receivers.
Moore, Campanaro and Perriman have combined for 37 catches for 392 yards and two touchdowns. Whether it’s been because of drops, limited snaps and opportunities, or the overall struggles of the passing game, they haven’t made a consistent mark on the offense.
As they prepared this week and it became more likely that Maclin would be out against the Colts (3-11) and possibly longer, there was an unspoken acknowledgment from the young receivers that their time has come.
“I think we have to step up whenever somebody goes down,” said Moore, who ranks eighth on the team in receptions (15) and fifth in receiving yards (213) while tying for fourth in receiving touchdowns (two). “We’re fighting right now to go to the playoffs and make a nice run, so I have to step up and make plays for this team.”
While the Ravens figure to rotate wide receivers in and out, Moore would likely start Saturday on the other side of Wallace. A fourth-round pick last year out of Cincinnati, Moore has become a valuable special teams player. He’s also shown signs of emerging as a productive outside target with nine catches for 117 yards in a recent three-game stretch. That included a 30-yard touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 10.
However, he was shut out by the Browns last week and the one drop in the game prompted the pep talk from Harbaugh and renewed the questions about Moore’s confidence level.
“I know what [Harbaugh’s] talking about,” Moore said. “Sometimes I doubt myself. Sometimes I do lack that confidence when I step on the field. Each time I go out there, my teammates have my back and hearing him say that — he knows I can be a great player — just gives me extra confidence in myself.
“The big thing I feel like for me [is] coming in and proving to myself that I belong here and I can play here. Being able to get on the field and make some plays is a good boost.”
Maclin ran a significant number of his routes from the slot and his replacement on those plays would likely be Campanaro, who has set career highs with 14 catches for 116 yards in 11 games. During one four-game stretch earlier this season, the former River Hill standout had 11 catches.
He then missed two games with a midseason shoulder injury, which slowed his progress on offense. Campanaro does rank as the AFC’s top punt returner.
“I think all three of us are extremely confident in our abilities to go out there and play. I know I am,” Campanaro said. "I feel great. I just want to go out there, have fun and make plays. We’re very confident as an offense right now. We’re looking forward to it.”
Then there’s Perriman, who is just trying to salvage something positive from a nightmarish third NFL season. He has eight catches for 63 yards, and returned to the team’s lineup against the Browns after spending three of the previous four games as a healthy scratch.
Perriman’s hands have betrayed the Ravens this year and he’s been held without a catch in five of his 10 games. But he had his first reception since Nov. 5 against the Browns on Sunday and he left the locker room with a smile on his face and a belief that better times are ahead.
“I’m not going to sit around here and mope about what’s going on. I’m going to continue to have the same mindset and attitude that I’ve been having. Nothing is going to change in that way. I’m just going to continue to grind hard,” Perriman said. “I can’t speak for everybody. In the back of my head, I know this is an opportunity, but at the same time, the focus is on getting better and being a complete player.”
Those directing the offense maintain that there’s a confidence level in the team’s other receiving options beyond Wallace. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said he is “comfortable” that the young receivers will do their job at a high level.
Flacco said the Ravens are accustomed to being without guys, so it wouldn’t be a huge adjustment if Maclin can’t play.
“We have dealt with this stuff all year,” Flacco said. “We have had to rotate guys in and get guys going, and I think Chris coming on will definitely help all of that.”
Maclin missed back-to-back games against the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings in October because of a shoulder injury. Those were two of the Ravens’ worst offensive performances of the year.
But as a whole, the offense is playing with more confidence now and has seemingly found an identity. Alex Collins has established himself as the lead back and teams are crowding the line of scrimmage to stop him. The offensive line has improved steadily. The return of Danny Woodhead has added a new dimension to the passing game, and both he and Allen are pass-catching options.
Wallace and Flacco have shown nice chemistry in recent weeks. Still, with Maclin not on the field and working the intermediate areas, the Ravens will need other options to emerge.
“We all know what we can do, but everyone hasn’t seen it yet. That’s something that I’m sure we’re all wanting to do,” Perriman said. “I have no doubt in my mind that we can get it done. We will get it done.”
Baltimore Ravens Insider
Needing them to catch on
With veteran Jeremy Maclin dealing with a knee injury, the Ravens might have to rely on Mike Wallace and a mostly unproven group of receivers in a must-win game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Player; Career games; Career Rec.-Yds.- TDs; 2017 Rec.-Yds-TDs
Mike Wallace; 140; 529-7,972-56; 43-648-3
Chris Moore; 26; 22-259-2; 15-213-2
Michael Campanaro; 22; 26-253-1; 14-116-0
Breshad Perriman; 26; 41-562-3; 8-63-0