Ravens Cleaning Up Special Teams

The Ravens have allowed three returns for touchdown this season.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Thursday, December 29th, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Categories: Garrett Downing, Week 16 vs Browns

The Ravens had a comfortable 20-point, second- half lead against the Cleveland Browns Saturday when Josh Cribbs returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown that brought some immediate life to the Browns sideline and got Cleveland back in the game.

Cribbs’ return sparked a surprising comeback attempt and was the most recent miscue for the Ravens special teams unit, which went into the game knowing they had to limit opportunities for Cribbs – one of best return men in NFL history.

“There were a variety of different things that went into that play,” Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “It was one of those team plays. It was all three parts of the coverage that broke down.”

The Ravens wanted Sam Koch to punt the ball near the left sideline, but it drifted toward the middle of the field and away from the coverage. Cribbs avoided a tackle from gunner Haruki Nakamura, and then shook off a couple other attempts before he was off to the races for the end zone. 


Rosburg On Special Teams

“Even after he broke through the first line we missed two tackles, and you just can’t give that type of player an opportunity; he’s too good,” Rosburg said. “We went into the whole week with that focus and we broke down.”

Cribbs’ touchdown was the third time this season that the Ravens have been victimized by a return-for-touchdown, tied with Seattle and Carolina for the most touchdown returns allowed.

Arizona Cardinals rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson returned a punt 82-yards for a score and Jets running back Joe McKnight returned a kickoff 107-yards for a touchdown.

“You never want to give up one touchdown, let alone the problems that we’ve had,” Rosburg said.

At the start of special teams meetings, Rosburg said the emphasis is placed on taking care of the football, having good protection and doing an effective job covering kicks.

The Ravens have struggled at times in two of those areas: protecting the football and covering kicks.

Kick returner David Reed fumbled twice on kickoffs in the Ravens’ Week 10 loss the Seahawks, but since then Tom Zbikowski has primarily handled the kick return duties and not had any problems with fumbling.

Improving on the kick and punt coverage has been more of a struggle.

Baltimore ranks 31st in the NFL at average kickoff return yards allowed (29.6) and 24th at average punt return yards allowed (12.0).

But the Ravens also have a smaller sample size at covering kicks and punts than some other teams because kicker Billy Cundiff is one of the NFL’s best at getting touchbacks and Koch is able to pin teams back with directional punts. The Ravens rank 23rd in the league at the number of kickoffs returned and 22nd at the number of punts returned.

Regardless of how many returns they cover, cleaning up the punt and kick coverage issues is a key priority for the Ravens heading into the postseason.

“Obviously the fact that we haven’t taken care of the ball and we haven’t covered kicks well enough has been a factor all season long,” Rosburg said, “and we will continue to address the issues.”

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