Kicking game pits big-play potential

Both teams have shown knack for making blocks

Special teams matchup

January 13, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The impact of the special teams will be measured by game-changing plays, not field position.

The Ravens' special teams have changed games recently. They have delivered three touchdowns and two blocked field goals the past three weeks, manufacturing the game-winning touchdown against Tennessee off a blocked field goal.

But that's been the forte of the Oakland Raiders all season. The Raiders' special teams led the NFL in blocks, with three on punts and two on field goals.

That fact didn't go over too well with the Ravens, who have allowed three of their punts to be blocked in the playoffs.

"I'm going to sleep a lot better knowing that now," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That kind of turnover is going to be key to a game. It usually is. We are going to do everything we can schematically and physically to make sure that it doesn't happen again."

The big plays could be a result of a breakdown in poise.

If that's decided by experience, the Ravens have an overwhelming edge.

The Raiders are using two rookies in kicker Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler. The Ravens rely on 11-year kicker Matt Stover and fourth-year punter Kyle Richardson.

Oakland's first-round draft pick, Janikowski has struggled with his field goals, going 22-of-32. But he has been a factor on kickoffs with 10 touchbacks.

"He's ready to step it up if necessary," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said.

Lechler averaged 45.9 yards per punt and led the NFL with a 41.6-yard net average. He will be key in handling Ravens punt returner Jermaine Lewis, who has cooled in the playoffs with a 6-yard average.

Lewis could play a factor on kickoffs as well. With the Ravens' regular returner, Corey Harris, replacing injured strong safety Kim Herring again, the kickoff return duties will go to Lewis. He had a 27-yard return last week.

The Ravens' coverage units have continued to support their stingy defense.

The Ravens' kickoff coverage was in prime form last week, making the Titans start within their 22-yard line four times. The target tomorrow is Oakland's David Dunn, who finished fifth in the AFC with a 24.4-yard kickoff return average.

Still, these teams expect their special teams to control field position, but need them to make some plays.

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