OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The absence of two veteran receivers and his go-to tight end won’t change a thing for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Facing the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in an important AFC North matchup, the Ravens (1-3) will be without leading receiver Steve Smith and speedy Michael Campanaro, both of whom were injured last Thursday night in a 23-20 overtime win over the Steelers.
Tight end Crockett Gilmore, who has 10 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns, missed practice Wednesday with a strained calf and is iffy for Sunday.
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That leaves Flacco with less heralded wide receivers Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown, along with newcomer Chris Givens. The primary tight ends are rookies Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle.
”It’s not my job to look to see who we have out there,” Flacco said. ”It’s my job to see whoever the guy is that’s open and give him a chance to make the catch.”
Flacco has plenty of faith in Aiken and Brown, even though the duo has a combined 116 catches compared to 944 for Smith.
”I’ve completed a lot passes to both of them, Kamar recently and Marlon in the past,” Flacco said. ”We’ve just to get them rolling and have confidence they’re going to do the job. They’re our guys right now, they have a lot of ability and we can’t treat them any other way.”
That was the philosophy in Pittsburgh after Smith left with a back injury. Aiken finished with five receptions, including an outstanding over-the-shoulder grab for a touchdown, Williams contributed a pair of catches and Boyle hauled in the first three passes of his NFL career.
Aiken may not have the experience or statistics of Smith, a 15-year veteran, but he knows that if he creates separation Flacco will more than likely get him the ball.
”The name on the back of the jersey really doesn’t matter; he’s going to find whoever is open,” Aiken said. ”When you have quarterbacks like that, it encourages you to run your route to win every time. Even if you’re not in the progression, it still might come your way.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh fully expects Flacco to be effective, especially against the league’s 32nd-ranked defense.
”I think he’ll do what he always does,” Harbaugh said. ”His job is to do his job, right? We’ve talked about that. You have to believe in one another. You have to trust in what guys are doing. You have to trust in the work ethic that you put in.”
Brown caught 49 passes in 2013, the year before Smith arrived, and 23 last season. With Smith out, Brown is back in the mix and ready to make the most of the opportunity.
”Me and Kamar, we were undrafted. I haven’t forgot. He hasn’t forgot,” Brown said. ”So I feel at the end of the day, he’s got to step up and I’ve got to step up. We’re going to prove everybody wrong.”
Browns coach Mike Pettine began his coaching career in Baltimore and was outside linebackers coach during Flacco’s rookie season. He’s seen enough over the past seven years to know that Flacco won’t need to make much of an adjustment without Smith as a target.
”There are some quarterbacks in the league – and I include Joe on that list – that will elevate the play of those around them,” Pettine said. ”He’s accurate, throws a very catchable ball, throws a great deep ball. These are NFL receivers that can get open. I have a lot of respect for Aiken and Marlon Brown.”
Bottom line: If the receivers run their patterns and Flacco gets time to throw, passes are going to be completed.
”I don’t care who is on the field or what they are doing,” Harbaugh said. ”It’s about executing your offense. We’re fully capable of doing that.”
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