Carr Breaks Loose

Ravensfrom Page One

Cornerback Jump-starts Team's Struggling Punt-return Unit

December 05, 2009|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee , edward.lee@baltsun.com

One of the reasons the Ravens signed Chris Carr to a two-year, $5 million contract this past offseason involved his proficiency at returning punts.

The team - and perhaps fans - finally caught a glimpse of a dividend on that investment Sunday night when Carr enjoyed his best game as a Raven, averaging a season-high 14.2 yards on five returns in the 20-17 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I know that if I keep working and get some space, I'm going to return like I always have in this league," Carr said. "So it was good to get that confidence going."

Carr, whose longest punt return this season before Sunday night was 15 yards, took a punt 34 yards in the fourth quarter. He eclipsed that mark later, but a 43-yard return was negated by an illegal-block-above-the-waist penalty on Tavares Gooden.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who spent nine seasons as the special teams coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, said the return unit is edging closer to its potential.

"As far as the punt returns, we've been close all year, believe it or not, as we go," he said. "And you get some returnable balls. We got the gunners blocked a little bit better at times than we have in the past, and he was north and south."

Carr's performance helped the Ravens improve from 30th to 27th in the NFL in punt returns, averaging 5.9 yards.

Still, the numbers are at risk of setting franchise lows. The worst ranking in club history is 25th (2006), and the lowest average is 7.7 yards (1999 and 2003).

Carr, who ranked eighth in the AFC last season with a 10.1-yard average for the Tennessee Titans, said opposing offenses have stalled near midfield, but that translates into little room to maneuver.

"This whole season, I've encountered a lot of red-zone punts and have had to do a lot of fair catches," said Carr, who has made 12 fair catches - the most by a Raven since B.J. Sams' 12 in 2004. "I've also had a lot of short, high punts where I've either gotten hit as soon as I catch it or had to fair-catch it. So it was good to get a game where I could get going, because all season long I knew it was showing statistically like I have done in the past."

The Ravens might be able to further inflate their numbers on punt returns Monday night against the Green Bay Packers, who rank 28th in the league, surrendering 11.5 yards per return.

Jeremy Kapinos ranks 32nd in the NFL in net punting average (33.6 yards) among punters who have more than 20 attempts this season, and 16th in gross average (44.1).

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said he has devoted time during the past several weeks to trying to hammer out the kinks in his special teams unit. The team is coming off a 34-12 Thanksgiving win over the Detroit Lions.

"We definitely need to clean some things up coming out of the Detroit game," McCarthy said. "We did not play to the level that we played against Dallas and San Francisco in that Detroit game, so I feel like we've had the extra time to correct that. We know we have an excellent special teams unit coming in here from Baltimore, and our guys are excited about the opportunity."

The Ravens are equally excited about their opportunity. Carr, in particular, said he feels at times that he is straining to make an impact.

"It's been one of those frustrating things because you want to contribute, you want to do something," he said. "You don't want to go back there and just fair-catch the ball. But then you have to say, 'Hey, I've got to be patient.' I think the last game, I was like, 'If I have to fair-catch it, I'll fair-catch it.' But on film, you could tell that we were going to get some opportunities, and we capitalized on them. Hopefully, this is another week like that."

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