Following a 41-7 drubbing at the hands of the New England Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens are unable to control their playoff destiny heading into the final week of the regular season.
It’s nearly a certainty that the Ravens will need a victory over the division leading Cincinnati Bengals to extend their playoff appearance streak to six consecutive years.
While there are gaping flaws that could result in the Ravens losing two straight to end the season, the defending champions have notoriously played close games against their divisional rival. Six of the last seven meetings have been decided by 10 points or less.
What could be some determining factors in another Ravens postseason birth? There is one objective that comes to mind when dissecting the subpar performance from their offense.
Increase Dennis Pitta’s Involvement In The Offense
Dennis Pitta’s production in the Ravens offense since returning from his hip injury has not been surprising. Aside from his 2013 debut against the Vikings, Pitta has been limited under offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell since returning to in-game action.
Pitta has been targeted by Joe Flacco 22 times in the three games he’s played, primarily with him playing in the slot. Half of his targets came in his first game against Minnesota, as he was targeted 11 times and was a cog in the team’s 29-26 comeback victory that saved their season.
On Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium, Pitta needs to be given the chance to excel in the offense by giving him double-digit targets for the game. He gives himself a chance to be productive on a weekly basis due to the amount of one-on-one opportunities he faces against opposing defenders.
With Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones providing the majority of their production down the field, defenders have turned their attention to successfully limiting the Ravens deep passing game in recent weeks.
This leaves Pitta with the opportunity to resume his past role of being effective in the middle of the field. This is the case especially on third downs, where Pitta has proven to be at his best for pivotal moments in close games.
It’s understandable for John Harbaugh to monitor Pitta’s snaps taken in games after missing two-thirds of the season due to injury. However, with the season on the line, Baltimore’s most reliable offensive target needs to be on full display.
In an offensive driven league, the Ravens have scored a mere one touchdown in their last eight quarters of play. If another improbable Super Bowl run were to come to fruition, then it will start with a normal drawn up play.
Joe Flacco dropping back, scanning his targets, and finding his tight end in the middle of the field for a first down.
That will be the difference between a victory and a title defense ending in the same year.
Matt Miselis covers the Baltimore Ravens and the rest of the NFL for ColdHardFootballFacts. A freelancer for Yahoo Sports, Miselis will begin writing for the USA Today Contributor Writing Program in January. Follow him on Twitter.