Matchup: Special teams

RAVENS vs. TITANS

January 03, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Last in a series previewing matchups for today's Ravens-Titans playoff game.

If the Ravens-Titans game comes down to a clutch field goal in the final few minutes, both teams should like their chances.

The Ravens' Matt Stover and Titans' Gary Anderson are two of the most experienced kickers in the league. The duo has a combined 36 years in the NFL and has likely been in every kicking scenario ranging from snow, to driving rain, to the comforts of a dome.

Anderson is the league's all-time leading scorer (2,346 points) and is first in field goals made (521). He has 14 game-winning field goals in his career, including a 53-yarder last season with the Minnesota Vikings against the Miami Dolphins. Anderson is 27-for-31 this season and has not missed a kick inside 40 yards.

Although Stover has missed two of his past four attempts, he has made two game-winning field goals this season, including a 47-yarder in overtime Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Stover has converted 33 of 38 attempts.

Pressure is nothing new to either kicker.

"Gary Anderson is probably going to be in the Hall of Fame," said Ravens special teams coordinator Gary Zauner. "And Matt right now has been pretty consistent and is a Pro Bowl player himself. Both teams have great kickers. Both teams have excellent punters, it's just that [Tennessee's Craig] Hentrich is a Pro Bowl punter, and David [Zastudil of the Ravens] has the ability to be a Pro Bowl punter."

Hentrich was selected to his second Pro Bowl after leading the AFC with 37.8 net average. He also handled kickoff duties this year when Joe Nedney suffered a season-ending injury in the first game. Hentrich sent 15 of his 91 kickoffs into the end zone, and teams are averaging a leaguel-low 18.8 yards a return against the Titans.

The Ravens' kickoff specialist, Wade Richey, has been just as effective. Ravens opponents' drives on average start at the 26-yard line, second best in the AFC, and Richey is second in the league with 14 touchbacks.

Tennessee does have an advantage in punt returns, with Justin McCareins averaging 11.4 yards a return, fifth best in the AFC. Ravens return man Lamont Brightful has struggled returning punts, averaging 7.8 yards.

But the Titans will have one extra worry in the form of Ravens safety Ed Reed, who has blocked two punts this season and returned both for touchdowns.

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