Unit showing just how special it is

Coverage, return teams consistently put Ravens in better field position

Pro Football

January 02, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The recent success of the Ravens' special teams can be measured by numbers and explained by intensity.

The special teams have made their biggest impact on the field-position battle, the measuring stick for coverage and return units. Over the past six quarters, the average starting field position for the Ravens has been their own 37-yard line, while their opponents have begun at their own 22.

For the Ravens, the improvement was a no-brainer.

"It's 90 percent emotion and 10 percent brains, that's special teams," said James Trapp, who has had 10 special teams tackles in the past four weeks. "That's what it's all about. Special teams is a one-play event where you have to go out there with a lot of emotion and not a lot of thinking."

In the franchise's first playoff victory Sunday, the special teams made their mark as well. Denver was forced to start at its 20-yard line or worse on eight of its 14 drives.

Ravens punter Kyle Richardson placed three punts inside the 10 and another inside the 20. Kicker Matt Stover recorded a touchback. And Trapp made a tackle at the Broncos' 17-yard line on kickoff coverage.

"How many times do teams drive 80 yards?" Trapp said. "Not too many. So field position is the key."

Said Ravens coach Brian Billick: "That's a subtlety in our game that a lot of people haven't picked up on is how well our special teams are playing."

Richardson has played a key role in pinning opponents this season. This year, he has had a league-leading 39 of his 96 punts fall inside the 20.

"I think we have a pretty confident group right now," Richardson said. "We started to jell at the right time, obviously. We just need to keep it going."

But there has been a trade-off for Richardson's efficiency inside the 20. His 40.2-yard average during the regular season was the worst of his four-year career and ranked 13th in the 16-team AFC.

After perfecting a rhythm and hang time to drop punts on a short field, Richardson has had to sacrifice the other area of his game. When deep in his own territory, he has had trouble driving long punts.

"I'm trying to find the happy medium where I can be dominant in both," Richardson said. "When I do that, I will obviously be in Hawaii with Stover [at the Pro Bowl]."

The coverage teams have made contributions, too.

Punt returner Jermaine Lewis scored two touchdowns a week ago. In the wild-card game Sunday, the Ravens' special teams gave their offense an average starting field position at their own 42-yard line.

"The field position battle is one that needs to be won on special teams," Ravens special teams coach Russ Purnell said, "and create momentum with big plays."

The Ravens' special teams, however, will have some incentive in playing at Tennessee on Sunday.

The Titans pride themselves on special teams and put themselves in NFL history with their "Home Run Throwback" in last season's playoff win over Buffalo. Plus, the Ravens want to show they can contain Tennessee's Derrick Mason, who averaged 34 yards per kickoff return Nov. 12 against the Ravens.

"We did a fairly decent job of controlling them the first time, but we missed too many tackles the last time we played them," Purnell said. "We'll have our hands full, but we will have certainly learned from our mistakes."

For the Ravens' special teams, it's all about controlling the field position and letting the emotions fly.

"They're going to look at our tape and say, 'These guys are playing pretty good,'" Purnell said. "They know what we're capable of. Going in with that confidence will help us play better."

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