Ravens having special effect

From Reed's punt blocks to Stover's consistency, special teams thriving

Brightful's turnaround also key

Pro Football

December 03, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

As he walked off the field after his team's 44-6 win Sunday, Ravens safety Ed Reed ran into an old college friend who helped provide a little insight into the San Francisco 49ers' game plan.

San Francisco starting cornerback Mike Rumph, who did not play because of an injury, clued Reed in as to why he never came close to blocking any of Bill LaFleur's punts.

Reed, who has four blocked punts in his 28-game career, drew so much attention, he eventually stopped rushing the punter.

"[Rumph] told me [that] the week before the game they had a whole 30-minute session strictly about me," Reed said.

Reed is expecting much of the same attention against the Cincinnati Bengals in Sunday's showdown for the lead in the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens have won every game in which he has blocked a punt.

"Cincinnati always keys on me," Reed said. "It's going to be interesting to see. I'll probably be more of a decoy this week."

If he is right, the Ravens still have a number of players who can swing the special teams advantage their way.

Matt Stover has made 18 straight field goals. Lamont Brightful, after a slow start, is becoming one of the more dangerous kickoff returners in the NFL, averaging 28 yards a return over his past four games, including two over 70 yards.

Wade Richey has 13 touchbacks on the season and is the primary reason the Ravens lead the league in kickoff coverage, with opponents averaging the 25-yard line to start drives. And Adalius Thomas has perhaps been the special teams' most valuable player, leading the Ravens' unit with 23 tackles, a forced fumble and a blocked punt.

"Special teams, we've got to be important as offense and defense now," said linebacker Cornell Brown, who has five tackles on special teams. "As a team, everybody is clicking together, and I think special teams is a key for us."

For Stover, his role has increased significantly over the past few weeks. Stover has made three fields goals in four of the past five games. He will see an equally hot kicker in the Bengals' Shayne Graham, who has converted on 17 of 19 field-goal tries.

"I know I'm going to have to come in and make a difference because I'm a point-maker, and point-makers tend to make differences in the game," Stover said. "I'm ready for that."

Stover's leg should be fresh with Richey handling the kickoff duties. Only Olindo Mare has more touchbacks than Richey, who said his goal is to send 80 percent of his kicks in the end zone.

"The kickoffs we've come to expect," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think he leads the league in kickoffs that don't come out beyond the 20. That's a big part of it, as subtle as it may be."

It is the strength of the Ravens against the weakness of the Bengals, who are last in the league in kickoff return average (25.3). Brandon Bennett's longest return for the Bengals is 44 yards.

"Those guys on our kickoff team are pretty good," Ravens special teams assistant coach Bennie Thompson said. "They run fast and hit whatever gets in their way."

While the coverage teams, Stover and Richey have been consistent all season, Brightful has turned around a year in which he lost his return jobs midway through.

After getting benched against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 26, Brightful rebounded the next week with a 58-yard kickoff return against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since then, Brightful has returned a kickoff at least 31 yards in every game and is now fourth in the AFC with a 27.6 average.

"The thing I'd like to see from him now is to take it to the next level and not only just get it out to the 50, I'd like to see him score now," Thompson said. "He has to take it upon himself and say he's got to get in the end zone. That's what we need from him."

Brightful's 75-yard return Sunday was the longest of his career.

"It's just a matter of time," Brightful said. "Everything is working out good. You can't ask for anything more, but if you break one, you break one."

A Brightful return for a touchdown would be the kind of big play that could decide the game, something Reed is familiar with.

Billick has estimated teams go on to win 75 percent of the time after a blocked punt. Reed understands that, which is why he is developing a new move to counteract the attention he is sure to receive.

"I'm working on something," Reed said. "It's just a matter of time before it comes into play. I might get a chance to do it, it's just a matter of what they show me."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) vs. Ravens (7-5)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3 1/2

Special forces

Here is a look at five Ravens special teams players who could make a difference against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Player - Matt Stover

Position - Kicker

Best play - Hit a 40-yard field goal with three seconds left to send the Seattle game into overtime.

Skinny - Has hit 18 straight field goals.

Player - Ed Reed

Position - Punt return team

Best play - Blocked a punt in the fourth quarter against Seattle and returned it for a touchdown, igniting a 17-point comeback.

Skinny - Has blocked two punts this season and returned both for touchdowns to spark wins.

Player - Lamont Brightful

Position - Return specialist

Best play - Returned a kickoff 75 yards against San Francisco, setting up a momentum-changing field goal in the second quarter.

Skinny - Has returned a kickoff at least 31 yards in each of the past four games, including two of 70-plus yards.

Player - Adalius Thomas

Position - Punt/kickoff team

Best play - As the gunner, forced Kansas City punt returner Dante Hall into a 4-yard loss in the second quarter.

Skinny - Leads the Ravens with 23 special teams tackles.

Player - Wade Richey

Position - Kickoff specialist

Best play - Sent the overtime kickoff 9 yards into the end zone against Miami for a touchback.

Skinny - Is second in the NFL with 13 touchbacks.

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