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Ravens Special Teams was Abysmal in 2011

One unit that often gets lost in the shuffle is the special teams squad, and in 2011 the Ravens unit was nothing short of a disaster. From fumbles that lost games, to a revolving door at kick returner and ranking near the bottom in pretty much every statistical category, it was an abysmal performance from a unit led by veteran coach Jerry Rosburg. Add in the performance of Billy Cundiff coming off his first pro Bowl nod in 2010 and the missed FG heard round the world in the AFCC game, and the Ravens have some serious concerns heading into 2012.

Just how bad was it? Placekicker Billy Cundiff finished the year with a 75.7% make rate, his worst while playing a full season since entering the league in 2002. This was following up a 2010 season where he made an astounding 89.7% of his attempts, and tied a record for touchbacks in a season with 40. Of course we can’t forget the most crucial miss of them all, one from 32 yards that would have given the Ravens a chance to go to the Super Bowl for the first time in the Harbaugh/Flacco era. Prior to that kick, Cundiff was 68 of 71 from 32 yards or less, or 96%.

The kickoff coverage unit was by far one of the the worst this franchise has ever seen, an abysmal 31st overall allowing a staggering 29.2 yards per return. As crazy as it might sound, that was actually an improvement over the 2010 unit which finished dead last. With two years in a row of performances like that I suspect there will be some serious changes made, especially knowing head coach John Harbaugh’s special teams background.

On punt returns the Ravens averaged giving up just 9.6 yards to the opposing team, still only finishing middle of the pack overall. The Ravens made some adjustments in the middle of the season putting Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams manning the gunner roles, and improved in that area down the stretch. If anyone wants to know why Jimmy Smith is playing special teams there is your answer, he is a big strong fast athlete who brings young talent and speed to a unit that desperately needs it.

They allowed 2 return touchdowns on the punt coverage unit, after not surrendering any in 2010. Arizona Cardinals kick returner Patrick Peterson took one back 82 yards to house in week 8, and Cleveland Browns returner Joshua Cribbs made it to the endzone from 84 yards out on Christmas Eve in week 16.

Using a hodge podge of punt returners that included Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb and various other “spot duty” fill ins that were pretty unspectacular, the Ravens finished 9th overall with an 11.9 yard average in that area mainly due to budding superstar Ladarius Webb . Webb’s finest moment was taking a punt back to the house on Dec 6th from 68 yards out against the Cleveland Browns, his first NFL TD and the first one for the Ravens since the 2007 season. If the Ravens want to improve this unit, they need to find someone who can fill the role consistently, and that person under no circumstances should be one Lardarius Webb. Webb has established himself as one of the premier corners in the NFL and players you can’t afford to lose him to a season ending injury over a few yards here or there and a rare TD.

The one saving grace on the flip side of the punting game was veteran Sam Koch, who was the only bright spot on a disappointing unit. Koch averaged 46.5 yards per punt, good for 10th overall and a 3 yard increase from 2010. While he picked up his average his inside the 20 numbers suffered, with only 21 downed in red zone for 2011, compared to a staggering 39 in 2010. The attempts were fairly close with 81 in 2010 and 73 in 2011, so the fact he had almost half as many is a bit concerning. If the Ravens want to contend for the Super Bowl once again, special teams is an area that needs to be tightened up.

Hopefully some of the slight adjustments as the 2011 season went on will carry into 2012, because it is hard to be that bad across the board in one of the 3 phases of the game and not have it come back to haunt you at some point. The Ravens got lucky last year, but can’t count on that again for 2012 if the unit does not make a significant improvement. Coach Jerry Rosburg has his hands full this coming season, and if improvement is not shown he could be looking for another job.

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