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Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh is not at all pleased with his special teams return game.
While Harbaugh said Baltimore won the field position battle thanks to excellent special teams coverage and a turnover, the return problems manifested themselves in a variety of ways Sunday against the Patriots.
It starts with penalties. The Ravens were hindered by two special teams penalties: a holding call on rookie tight end Ed Dickson during a third-quarter kickoff return and an illegal block above the waist on second-year cornerback Cary Williams during a punt return.
Williams’ was especially costly as it came before the Ravens’ second overtime possession. Baltimore would have started on its own 37-yard line after a 9-yard Chris Carr return, but instead was backed up to its own 17. The Ravens drove 35 yards on that series, but stalled out at the New England 48, short of field goal range.
“Penalties just aren’t acceptable right now, and there’s no reason for them,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been coached and coached, and it’s been drilled and drilled, and it’s been made important and made important. We got better at it last year, and they’re starting to crop up again. The only thing I can say to those guys is that, ‘You won’t be playing.’ Flat out.”
“If you can’t block without holding a guy on special teams, if you can’t tell that that’s his back and not his front and you put your hands on his back, then you can’t play for us. It’s just that simple.”
The Ravens aren’t getting much on their returns either. They are 22nd in the NFL in average yards per kickoff return (21.0) and 29th on punts (5.7).
As far as punts, Harbaugh said it starts with catching more instead of letting them bounce. Harbaugh said Baltimore lost 69 yards in situations like that on special teams. The Ravens’ punt return combo of Carr and safety Tom Zbikowski let four of six punts hit the turf Sunday.
Harbaugh, a former nine-year special teams coach in Philadelphia, also said kick returner Jalen Parmele shouldn’t have brought out two kickoffs from three and four yards deep in the end zone and especially when they have 4.3 seconds of hang time.
Parmele, who stepped back into his starting role after a one-game respite as cornerback Josh Wilson was injured and inactive, averaged 18 yards on his two kickoff returns. He came out of the end zone from four yards deep to open the game and was stopped at the 11.
“That’s just decision-making,” Harbaugh said. “But, we will find a returner that will make good decisions and run the ball where we want it run. We just have to do that. It’s really important.”