Ravens Special Teams Regressing

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 24: Joshua Cribbs #16 of the Cleveland Browns returns a punt for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Browns 20-14. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

As noted in a story by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times, the Baltimore Ravens kick coverage is failing this season. One of the team's strengths in 2010, this year it has proved to be an Achilles Heel, with not only the coverage aspect of Special Teams, but the lack of accuracy by placekicker Billy Cundiff. Compared to his Pro Bowl 2010 season, Cundiff is a mere shell of the guy who was a deadly weapon, setting an NFL record for kickoff touchbacks when the kickoff were from the 30-yard line. Now that the kickoff has been moved up to the 35-yard line for player-health "concerns," Cundiff is still putting the ball into the end zone, but more are being returned and for a greater average this season.

In 2010, Cundiff had 79 kickoffs in the Ravens 16 games, an NFL-leading 40 touchbacks and when the opposition did return them, averaged only 26 yards per return. In 2011, while Cundiff is already up to 42 touchbacks on 71 kickoffs, the opponents are returning them for a 31-yard average, giving them much better field position. On the offensive side, Cundiff was deadly last season, connecting on 26 of 29 attempts for a 90% success rate. He's fallen off significantly, partially due to a recent injury and his job may be in jeopardy depending on how the rest of the season plays out. Currently, he has hit on only 27 of 36 attempts for 75%, tied for 28th best n the NFL among full-time kickers.

On the punting side, the Ravens' Sam Koch is actually kicking a bit further in 2011 than he did last year, but the problem is the lack of coverage mentioned in Aaron Wilson's article. In 2010, Koch averaged 43.6 yards per punt and he is averaging 46.5 this season. However, his teammates have slacked off in their ability to cover the punts, giving up 12 yards a return this season versus only eight last year, dropping his net yards per kick from 39.2 in 2010 to 38.8 in 2011.

There are three key parts to every team and every NFL game: offense, defense and Special Teams. Anyone who wants to discount the importance of Special Teams compared to the other two should only look at what Devin Hester has meant to the Chicago Bears, rookie Patrick Peterson has meant to the Arizona Cardinals and as the Ravens and their fans can personally attest to, what Joshua Cribbs has meant to the Cleveland Browns.

Check out Aaron Wilson's story to see where the ravens rank and who has done damage to their coverage teams this season. A lead can easily turn into a deficit and a possible win can turn into a loss in just a few seconds and erase the success the other two parts of the game have given you. If the Ravens hope to go on the streak to make it deep into the post season, this portion of the game must not be overlooked and has to improve.

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