Sunday, July 28, 2013

The NFL's War of Attrition Has Already Begun

The Ravens will have to do without tight end Dennis Pitta, a key cog in their 2012 Super Bowl run.

By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

NFL training camps are still in their first weekend, but the war of attrition that is the NFL season is already underway.

Reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore was hit hard with the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta for the season with a hip injury, while rebuilding Philadelphia will have to go the year without explosive receiver Jeremy Maclin, who tore his ACL in a non-contact drill Saturday.

Though lesser known, Cleveland's Ryan Miller suffered a concussion that will have ramifications in the AFC North. Entering his second season, Miller seemed poised to grab a starting position on Cleveland's line, but after a concussion that left him hospitalized, the timetable for his return is uncertain.

While the biggest loss appears to be Maclin on paper, we don't even truly know how new coach Chip Kelly planned to use him in the Eagles' new offense. Plus, there are clearly lowered expectations in Philadelphia, where an open quarterback competition is going on between Mike Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley and Dennis Dixon.

In Baltimore, however, Pitta's loss will be felt immediately. While the Ravens do have another solid tight end in Ed Dickson, this takes away their ability to use effective two-tight end sets, a staple of last year's offense that proved effective both when Baltimore was running and throwing the ball. And, while Dickson has started 27 games over the last two seasons, he has less than 800 receiving yards and only six touchdowns to show for it.

With Pitta gone to injury, and veteran receiver Anquan Boldin in San Francisco, quarterback Joe Flacco has effectively lost both his safety blankets from last season's magical playoff run. Does this knock the Ravens from contenders to pretenders in 2013? Certainly not, but it will make Flacco's job a whole lot tougher this time around.

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