Ravens beat: Tight end Todd Heap proves his worth in red zone

November 18, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

Todd Heap's past two seasons will be remembered for the tight end taking hard hits over the middle, getting back to his feet and playing through the pain.

In many ways, his toughness has overshadowed his touchdowns. Heap has quietly become the Ravens' red-zone monster, emerging as Joe Flacco's favorite target inside the 20-yard line.

Over the past dozen games, Heap has scored six touchdowns in the red zone, the most by any Raven during that stretch. Only running back Willis McGahee has produced more than three red-zone touchdowns in that time, but most of his five touchdowns have been scored by running the ball.

The top tight ends thrive in the cramped working space inside an opponent's 20-yard line because they use their size (they're usually the biggest receivers on the field). Heap, who is 6-foot-5, 247 pounds, excels in this area because he has reliable hands and can make catches while taking a hit.

That's why it came as no surprise to see where Flacco threw the ball with the game on the line in Atlanta. He waited for Heap to make his cut before throwing a 9-yard strike to Heap with 65 seconds left in the game. That marked Heap's fourth touchdown in four games, and all but one came in the red zone.

It could be another productive effort Sunday at Carolina. In their last game, the Panthers allowed Tampa Bay Buccaneers' tight ends Kellen Winslow and John Gilmore to catch a combined nine passes for 117 yards and one touchdown.

Heap's turnaround has been quite impressive. A hamstring injury in 2007 sidelined him for 10 games. In 2008 and 2009, Heap managed five touchdowns in a 29-game period while adjusting to the Cam Cameron's offensive system. But he scored four touchdowns in the final three regular-season games, which carried over into a resurgent 2010 season for the two-time Pro Bowl player.

This great run comes at a timely period for the 30-year-old tight end. The Ravens started to look to the future when they drafted two tight ends (Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta) in April. Plus, Heap's contract goes from $4 million to $4.6 million next season, the final year of his deal.

Still, there are few tight ends playing better than Heap. Only four (Antonio Gates, Mercedes Lewis, Rob Gronkowski and Dustin Keller) have scored more than Heap's four touchdowns this season. And Heap has proven that no Raven has been more valuable in the red zone.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley PlayerTotal TDsRZ TDsTodd Heap86Willis McGahee85Anquan Boldin63Derrick Mason43A look at the Ravens' red-zone touchdown leaders over the past 12 games:

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