Mason's success has catch

After Ravens' go-to receiver, there's big production drop


Months ago, when the Ravens signed receiver Derrick Mason, there was anticipation that - at long last - the team had found its go-to receiver.

Halfway through the year and on pace for a 98-catch, 1,104-yard season, Mason is turning that hope into reality, but at no small cost. Every catch Mason makes widens the gap between his production and that of his teammates.

In fact, statistically, the consistent secondary option at wide receiver that most teams have has been non-existent for the Ravens. Mason's 49 catches represent 27 percent of the team's total, while Mark Clayton, Randy Hymes and Clarence Moore have 23 receptions combined (13 percent). All three of those players have started opposite Mason at some point this season. None have a touchdown reception or a game-changing catch.

It has been all Mason, all the time as an outside receiving threat, in part because the Ravens have designed it that way. Six of Anthony Wright's eight throws to wide receivers against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday were to Mason, who finished with five catches for 60 yards. And to think there was concern that Mason was not picking up the system fast enough after a slow preseason (five catches for 34 yards and no touchdowns).

"Yeah, I am comfortable to the point where now I can go out there and just play and not think too much about what's going on," Mason said. "I can just concentrate on what I'm doing. But like I've always said, if you want to be a good offense, you have to score points. You have to consistently score points and consistently move the ball down the field, and we're not doing that. I'm not frustrated in the offense, but we have to start scoring points."

That could happen if another receiving threat emerges besides Mason and tight end Todd Heap, who has 37 catches, 403 yards and a team-leading two touchdowns. Clayton has recovered from ankle and hamstring injuries, and the goal is for him to serve as a complement to Mason the second half of the season.

"There are going to be a handful of opportunities for a Mark Clayton now, who I do think is healthy and ready to go," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's great that he was up. I think he is ready to establish himself in a regular rotation for us, to take a full set of snaps and do the things that we have seen Mark Clayton do."

Clayton showed glimpses through the first two games, when his seven catches were second among rookies in that span. Whether he can pick up where he left off remains to be seen, but a look around the league shows that having a top receiving threat in conjunction with a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end can still allow for a dangerous third option.

San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is second in the AFC with 707 receiving yards, to go along with Keenan McCardell's 469 yards and six touchdowns. But the Chargers also have Eric Parker, who has 24 catches for 316 yards, seven of which have come on third downs.

The New York Giants' Jeremy Shockey leads tight ends in the NFC with 530 receiving yards and five touchdowns, a perfect complement to teammate Plaxico Burress' 656 yards on 45 catches. When those players get too much attention, Amani Toomer continues to be a factor within the offense, hauling in 24 receptions for 289 yards and two touchdowns.

If the Ravens' offense is to improve on its 12.1 points per game average, finding its own receiving trio would help.

"We drafted Mark Clayton in the first round for a very good reason, and the limited time he's been healthy and been in there, that reason has been obvious," receivers coach David Shaw said. "Getting him back into the groove, a little bit last week, a little bit more this week and hopefully more in the future, that will continue to emerge."

Ravens@Jaguars Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Jaguars by 7

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