Every week, blogger Matt Vensel breaks down a critical play, sometimes with the help of Ravens players, from that week’s game. Today, he looks at Joe Flacco’s second-half touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta.
If the Denver Broncos didn’t learn in December that Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta has developed a nose for the end zone, they will certainly take note when watching film from Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts.
When the Ravens needed a big play and a little bit of breathing room in the third quarter of the wild-card win, quarterback Joe Flacco again turned to his sure-handed tight end as they neared the opponent’s goal line.
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On their second drive of the second half, the Ravens, with 46 yards coming on a long completion to wide receiver Anquan Boldin, quickly moved down the field into the red zone. They faced second-and-15 from the Indianapolis 20-yard line, and they again decided to spread out the Colts and attack them through the air.
The Ravens put three wide receivers on the field, with Torrey Smith on the right sideline and Jacoby Jones and Boldin on the left. Next to Boldin in the left slot was Pitta, who was standing up tight to the offensive line.
After the snap, the outside receivers, Jones and Smith, ran straight down the field before hitting the brakes and drifting towards the sidelines. Pitta ran right across the formation as Boldin ran a post behind him.
The Colts generated quick pressure with their front four. Dwight Freeney dusted left tackle Bryant McKinnie with a nasty spin move and got an inside track to Flacco. On the other side, Robert Mathis got a step on right tackle Michael Oher, but Oher was able to steer Mathis wide because Flacco, whose pocket presence has been scrutinized, smartly stepped up into that lane and made an accurate throw to Pitta while on the move.
“There was pressure up the middle on Joe, someone came up on a stunt and flushed him out a little bit,” Pitta said. “That kind of took him right to where my route was going. Joe did a great job of putting it on me.”
The Colts were in man coverage with safety Antoine Bethea deep in the end zone and safety Tom Zbikowski lurking in the middle. Pitta got good separation from Colts linebacker Moise Fokou and was wide open when he caught the pass at the 17-yard line. He turned upfield, where Smith sealed off cornerback Cassius Vaughn with a quality block. Zbikowski tried to chase Pitta down, but got there as he tumbled across the goal line.
The touchdown, Pitta's sixth in the past nine games, gave the Ravens a 17-6 lead and the separation they couldn't achieve in the first half. From there they rolled to a 24-9 win and advanced to the divisional round.
On Monday, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was asked for an explanation about why Pitta has become such a productive player, especially when the Ravens get inside the red zone, in his third season in the NFL.
“He’s got great hands. He’s got a knack for catching and getting up field. He’s done a better job more than anything of making plays on his feet after he catches the ball,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe that’s something we didn’t see earlier in the year. He’d catch it, and he wouldn’t be able to keep his feet sometimes, but it seems like he has been able to maintain that balance and get yards after the catch. It’s led to a lot of production.”
Pitta’s pass-catching ability and chemistry Flacco will make him an X-factor for Saturday’s game in Denver.