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RAVENS BEAT

Ravens Beat

Carr, Quick To Call For Fair Catches, Has Dropped Ball As Team's Primary Punt Returner

November 27, 2009|By Jamison Hensley

Not all of the blame for the Ravens' scoring problems should be placed on the offense. Some fingers need to point at the team's lackluster punt-return game, which hasn't put Joe Flacco and teammates in the best field position.

The Ravens have the 30th-ranked punt-return unit in the NFL, averaging a paltry 4.1 yards.

No other Ravens team has struggled like this one returning punts. The worst ranking in team history is 25th (2006). The lowest average is 7.7 yards (1999 and 2003). These are troubling numbers considering coach John Harbaugh's expertise with special teams.

The Ravens decided to let last season's punt returner, Jim Leonhard, go in free agency and sign Chris Carr. They signed for similar contracts: Leonhard agreed to a three-year, $6 million deal with the New York Jets (along with the assurance of a starting safety job), and Carr signed a two-year, $5 million contract.

But their production has been very different. Leonhard's average (8.2) doubles Carr's mark (4.1). Last season, Leonhard took over for struggling Yamon Figurs and created a spark by averaging 11.6 yards per return.

Carr has seemed too conservative at times, calling for 11 fair catches through 10 games. That already matches the most fair catches by a Ravens player over the past four seasons, and that's for an entire season. In his past two games, Carr has signaled for five fair catches and returned only three punts.

When Carr does return punts, he hasn't had much success. He has broken just three returns for 10 yards or more. His longest is 15 yards (which happens to be the average for the NFL's top punt returner, the Philadelphia Eagles' DeSean Jackson).

The Ravens have gone to Ed Reed at times, but he doesn't seem to be the answer. Over the past three seasons, Reed did return one punt for a touchdown (a 63-yarder) but has averaged 3.4 yards on his other 17 returns. His his penchant for lateraling the ball also makes him a risky option.

Another possibility is Lardarius Webb, but the Ravens don't want to stretch the rookie too thin. He is already the kickoff returner, and he might be starting in place of injured Fabian Washington at cornerback.

So, until the Ravens can find a spark in the punt-return game, their offense will have to jump-start itself.

Hoping to return to form

How the Ravens' punt-return game has fared since 2005:

Year Avg. yds Rank

2005 11.1 1st

2006 7.8 t-25th

2007 9.7 9th

2008 8.6 19th

2009 4.1 30th

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