Last week, the Ravens announced the signing of veteran tight end, Owen Dainels, to a one year, $1M contract with no guaranteed money up front. Daniels is coming off a 2013 where he suffered a broken leg just five games into the season. Coach John Harbaugh is excited and has “big plans” for the 31-year old.
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Those big plans could be the Ravens switching to a “12” personnel (one RB, two TE, two WR) as their dominant package on offense. In this article from Bucky Brooks at NFL.com, he takes a look at why the dual TE threat will take the league by storm. The three main reasons are that it neutralizes eight man fronts against the run. It gives you more flexibility in the formations the offense can present. The size of the “move” tight end creates mismatches that drive defensive coordinators bonkers.
“If the defense remains in base personnel, the H-back enjoys a significant advantage over a linebacker lacking the agility to stay close in coverage. If the defensive coordinator uses nickel personnel, the H-back uses his superior size to post up smaller defenders in space,” Brooks mentions.
Owen Daniels at 6’3”, 249lbs and Dennis Pitta at 6’4”, 245lbs, are no small fries.
The dream scenario here is that the tandem of Owen Daniels, a disciple of Gary Kubiak’s often high ranking offenses, and Dennis Pitta, become the next Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (on the field, not off it). While that is setting the bar awfully high, I think fans would be happy if the new alignment could simply improve the Ravens 31st ranked red zone efficiency. Second worst only to Jacksonville, the Ravens found the end zone on just 46.15% of their red zone possessions. The Broncos and Bengals both were over the 70% mark in hitting pay dirt instead of settling for three, or zero.
This all sounds great. But on the surface, don’t Pitta and Daniels look like the same guy? Similar sizes, similar skill sets. Whereas Pitta is a pass catcher first, conventional thinking would suggest the Ravens need a run blocking tight end to complement him. Run blocking isn’t really Daniels’ forte.
Yes. Pitta and Daniels have been used similarly in the past and that’s okay. I’ll explain why. Here are a couple charts to show you where each guy did their work on the field in 2012. Both Pitta and Daniels’ last full season.
Dennis Pitta receiving by direction
Owen Daniels receiving by direction
As you can see, Owen Daniels does most of his work short and over the middle. 48%, nearly half of his targets are right in that area where linebackers are looking to lower the boom and rip his head off. Daniels shows his toughness by grabbing two out of three balls thrown his way there. 34% of Dennis Pitta’s targets are in that “danger zone” as well, and he catches them at a slightly better clip of about three out of four.
Last season, the Denver Broncos had without a doubt the most prolific passing offense in history. A large part of their success (not named Peyton Manning) was the “drag” routes they used. The multiple crossing patterns in one play that would cause borderline illegal “picks”. The receivers would run short crossing routes towards each other that would naturally leave guys on defense rubbing each other and opening space for Wes Welker to make catch and run type plays. Those are the same type of plays that will be prevalent in Gary Kubiak’s west coast passing game.
Both Pitta and Daniels are reliable targets over the middle of the field. They have to garner attention from linebackers when they cross the middle. It would be wise for the Ravens to take a page out of the Broncos playbook and utilize Pitta and Daniels the same way, to clear the way for guys like Torrey Smith to catch and run unabated.
Furthermore, shallow crossing drag routes that rub and pick defenders are a good way to beat press coverage. Torrey Smith is a guy who has a little trouble beating the press on his own, one on one. Sending Torrey Smith on a crossing route behind Pitta and Daniels clearing the way, with Steve Smith drawing attention elsewhere, because he’s Steve Smith and he still beats the game’s best DBs at age 35, could be prolific for the speedster. Getting Torrey in open space with room to rack up yards after catch would be dangerous for opposing defenses. Linebackers and cheating safeties could zero in on Torrey underneath. But then one of Pitta and Daniels are likely left open for a pitch and catch to move the chains.
Pick your poison defenses.
The signing of Owen Daniels could pay off in a big way for this Ravens offense.