Checking in on the Baltimore Tight Ends
We all know that the production from the Ravens’ tight ends has been disappointing this season. I decided to take a closer look at Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark versus Chicago to see what’s going on. Is it the scheme? Is it the players? How are the Ravens using their two lackluster tight ends – and have they been at all successful? Let’s find out.
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At this point in the season, the Ravens have only two tight ends on their roster – Dickson and Clark. Dickson has received a few more snaps than Clark (415 to 347 so far), including 54 snaps against Chicago compared to Clark’s 26. Both are playing exceptionally poor football, particularly when blocking in the running game. But you probably knew that already. The more important question is how are they being used? Are Dickson and Clark really just that bad? Or is the scheme set up to fail?
Against Chicago, Dickson was used everywhere but the redzone. I’m pretty sure he didn’t take a single goal-to-go snap, which is interesting. Baltimore seems to like Clark more in those situations, and I imagine it has to do with football IQ – Clark has shown the ability to get open when a play breaks down on the goal line and is a better security blanket for Flacco in that situation.
The rest of the time, though, the team stuck with Ed. And he was on the field a lot. He took exactly 2/3 of all offensive snaps against Chicago. Sticking to a traditional role, Dickson lined up tight to the formation on all but two snaps (for those two snaps, he lined up in the slot). He ran a total of 20 routes and blocked on 34 plays (for some reason).
I’m not even going to bother breaking down Dickson’s abysmal run blocking. It was, in no uncertain terms, a parade of misery. Failed reach blocks on zone plays. A complete inability to hold a block on power runs. Misread blocking assignments. Every time I blinked, Dickson’s assignment was making a stop. When it comes to run blocking, Dickson failed in every scheme. In this instance, he really is just that bad. If the Ravens want to succeed while keeping their 11 personnel on the field most of the time, they must find a TE who can block (i.e. Pitta can’t get healthy soon enough).
That being said, not all was lost when Dickson was on the field. Caldwell actually schemed up some pretty interesting and successful plays in the passing game. Let’s take a look.
Here, Chicago is in Cover 3 and the Ravens are going to run twin curl routes with Dickson and Doss. Prior to the snap, the SS (in the yellow bubble) has cheated toward the LOS from what was once a two high safety look. He will be the “Sky” player responsible for the underneath zone while both cornerbacks are going to bail into their deep third zones.
Generally, the SAM linebacker will have responsibility for Dickson’s route here. However, Rice runs a shallow curl, and the SAM sees Joe looking to that side of the field. He bites on Rice’s route. This leaves the SS stranded – he must choose which receiver to cover.
Here, Dickson has just caught the pass from Joe. You can see how much space he has to work with since he has inside leverage on the SS and the SAM has put himself way out of position. Route combinations are essential for getting the ball to the Baltimore tight ends. Neither one of them is good enough to create their own space or win against man-to-man coverage.
Here’s a route combination we’ve seen before. The Ravens really like running this hi/lo crossers concept. I particularly like this play because Dickson is being used only to clear space for Torrey Smith. I honestly think that’s the best use for him at this point. Dickson will cross underneath, dragging one of the ILBs away and creating space for Torrey to catch an easy pass in stride.
Here you see just how much space was created for Torrey. The two deeper routes on the offensive left cleared out the rest of the space in this part of the field, meaning Torrey can turn upfield and gain solid yardage.
Here’s another play where Dickson is being used as a decoy/to clear space for Torrey Smith. Like I said, this is undoubtedly my favorite role for Dickson in this offense. Of course, plays like this don’t work if Joe never throws the ball to a tight end down the seam, and, not coincidentally, Caldwell dialed up that particular pass several times versus Chicago (including Joe’s second INT on a throw to Dallas Clark…more on that below). But I like what the offense is trying to do by using route combos to get Torrey the ball in space.
In purple, you can see Joe throwing a quick-hitting pass to Torrey right as he breaks his route. The CB in man coverage is already a step behind, while the ILB is going to stick with Dickson down the seam. This is similar to the Dagger route, which Baltimore also runs.
This is another fun play that attempts to use scheme to put Dickson in a position to succeed. Just after the snap, you can see the line zone blocking to the right. Circled in orange, Joe is about to fake a handoff to Ray Rice. Finally, Ed Dickson is coming across underneath the line to the backside of the play.
Joe’s boot action leaves almost the entire defense out of position. Dickson has scooped around the lone defender who is a threat, and Joe has enough time to throw it to him.
In this image, you see seven defenders (eight, if you include the man that Joe is about to throw over top of) who are essentially out of the play. Unfortunately, Joe lofts the pass too much and it sails incomplete. However, this is still a good play – and one of the reasons the Ravens shouldn’t abandon the Zone Blocking Scheme entirely. A ratio that favors power plays but doesn’t abandon zone blocking gives the offense far more freedom and creativity and helps set up plays like this one that have the potential to go for big gains.
So, in conclusion, Dickson is pretty much awful. But in my opinion, Caldwell is doing a good job of scheming plays for the passing game, using proven route combinations and getting the ball in Torrey Smith’s hands when he can. Unfortunately, nothing is going to succeed in the running game (at least consistently) with the current personnel.
Clark has been used much differently than Dickson in this offense. He’s pretty much been relegated to playing as a big-bodied receiver. The team doesn’t trust him to block at all, like 0%. His only blocking plays came on the goal line as part of our jumbo/heavy package. Mostly, he chipped a defender and went out for a short pass. Here’s a quick look at how else the team used him when they weren’t in goal-to-go situations.
Clark was used as part of a trips bunch formation four or five times against Chicago. He mostly ran a smash route here.
Clark was occasionally lined up as a sidecar in shotgun formation. Here, he always chipped a defender and then settled in the flat for a checkdown option.
Here, Clark is lined up in the slot, which he did far more often than Dickson. According to PFF, Clark ran 12 of his 15 routes from the slot (they are including his routes from trips bunch as slot routes). Though slower than Dickson and unable to really cut or juke, Clark does have better hands. On this particular play above, Clark made a game-saving catch on fourth down that was pretty ridiculous. If he drops the ball, Baltimore turns it over on downs and loses. As it was, he made this incredible catch below and the team went on to tie the game with a field goal:
Finally, let’s take a look at the seam pass that resulted in Joe’s second interception of the game. I’ll explain why I don’t hate the call and why I think a more athletic tight end, like Pitta, would have succeeded where Clark failed.
Here, Clark is going to run a 9 route down the seam. Even though the coverage appears tight, the Ravens get the look they were hoping for here: Clark one-on-one against a middle linebacker. Most of the time in the NFL, this is a mismatch in favor of the offense.
Here you can see Clark one-on-one against LB Jon Bostic. The ball is in the air and has nearly reached the two, so even though there is a trailing defender, he isn’t in a position to make a play.
Here’s why I don’t hate this throw. Though it appeared as though Flacco threw into multiple coverage when watching it live, this is in fact a good look. Clark’s height advantage really should win out here, but as you can see, he isn’t even off the ground when Bostic snags this pass out of the air. Clark simply gets out-jumped a by a younger, more athletic linebacker. Again – and this is a fitting conclusion for both Dickson and Clark – this is an example of good scheme but ineffective personnel.