The Ravens were able to win their final two games despite the absence of number one wide receiver Anquan Boldin, although, there was a clear statistical drop off in the productivity of the wide receiver position without him.
Wideout Lee Evans was expected to make some progress in the offense as the number two receiver but failed to notch even one catch in Boldin's absence. The only Ravens' wide receiver to touch the ball over the past two games was Torrey Smith who hauled in seven catches. It's great that Cam Cameron didn't try and put too much pressure on the young rookie but let's face it, if the Ravens want to compete with the rest of the teams in the tournament, they will need more than just one competent wideout.
The Ravens had tight end Dennis Pitta line up at wide receiver during a 24-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, catching six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. Pitta and fellow tight end Ed Dickson are very viable receiving options for quarterback Joe Flacco but neither have the elite speed that keeps defenses on their toes. Neither does Boldin for that matter but he has always found a way to challenge a team down the field and demands respect from opposing corners.
When asked if he was close to returning to the field Boldin said he probably could have played in Cincinnati if it was a playoff game.
"I'm cool," Boldin said. "I'm able to play. If it was a playoff game, I definitely would have been able to play. I played with it partially torn all year. It got to the point where my knee started catching and I wasn't able to run or anything like that.
"For me it was a tough decision whether or not to play. The guys told me they would take care of it. I feel like I made the right decision to get ready for the next game."
Boldin led the Ravens' receivers with 57 receptions for 887 yards and three touchdowns this season. Since the return of Evans from injury he has been able to play his more traditional role of slot receiver where he is accustomed to finding coverage lapses in the middle of the field. The option to line up with three wide presents more challenges for defenses facing the Ravens, especially when you also have have two play-making tight ends involved. This will cause defenses to use more nickel and dime packages and open up the field for Ray Rice. It is actually remarkable that Rice was able to run like he did against Cincinnati with the team having such a depleted receiving corp.
I just wish that we could have seen something out of Lee Evans in the last few games of the year. The NFL is becoming a passing league with all of the new rules to favor the receivers and Baltimore is lacking in this department. It's crazy to watch teams like the Giants and Packers churn out new all-star receivers every year while we barely have two to rub together to make a third.
Getting Anquan back for Baltimore is huge as he and Joe Flacco have the best chemistry of all the Ravens pass catchers. He is also one of the best in the league at run blocking down field. It was great to see that the Ravens can find other ways to get down the field and score without him but the offense is better as a whole with Boldin on the field.