As the Ravens work on their coverage units this week, they might want to heed some advice from former special teams ace Bennie Thompson.
Throughout his 11-year career (1989 to 1999), Thompson was one of the NFL's best. He even had his own special fan club in Baltimore from 1996 to 1999.
He later was a special teams assistant under former Ravens head coach Brian Billick. Thompson still lives in Baltimore, and watches Ravens games, including that 84-yard punt returned for a touchdown by Cleveland's Josh Cribbs Saturday.
According to Thompson, the Ravens — as well as most other teams — don't have those old, tough veterans who made their living by playing solely on special teams.
The Ravens top special teams performer is Brendon Ayanbadejo, who plays as much in passing situations as the regular inside linebackers in base defense.
"Guys don't take it as seriously as we did back in our day," Thompson said. "If we didn't play well on special teams, we didn't make the team. And if we didn't make the team, we didn't eat. Our families didn't eat. Each team had a player like me or a Steve Tasker, and that's all we did was play on special teams.
"The Ravens don't have a player or any players like that. They play special teams because they are made to play them. That's like a parent telling a kid he has to do something. He does it, but his heart isn't in it. Guys like myself, Bart Scott or Adalius Thomas, our hearts were in it because that was the only way we were going to eat."
The Ravens have given up two punt returns and one kickoff return for touchdowns this season. Against Cribbs, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said several things went wrong, including some players shading too much to the left.
"The guys on the left side felt that way," said Harbaugh. "The guys on the right side were too far to the right, and basically, they split up coverage — two things that really shouldn't happen."
"It wasn't one of the better punts we've had, but we can cover it," he said. "So many times Sam [Koch] bails us out with really great punts right out of bounds. That was not one of them. He's not going to bat 1.000, as good as he is. And then the coverage has got to bail out that punt. And we didn't do it there."
You really feel sorry for Ravens receiver/return specialist David Reed, who is out for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee Saturday.
The second year player has been a victim of bad luck.
Whenever it appears he is about to play a significant role, an injury pops us. At least in the past, the injuries kept him out only a couple of games. This injury could cost him a year or two.
If the Ravens lose Sunday and get the No. 5 seed, the preference here would be to play Denver rather than Oakland.
At least with the Broncos, you know you're getting a run-oriented offense and an inaccurate quarterback. The Raiders are unpredictable and on any given Sunday they could beat anybody … or they couldn't beat the University of Maryland.
Plus, who would you rather face, Tim Tebow or Carson Palmer?
Tighten it up
Harbaugh said he wasn't concerned about three running backs gaining over 100 yards against the Ravens this season. He also pointed out that the Cleveland Browns had only one scoring drive Saturday.
He has a valid point, but the Browns still had some huge running lanes and wide open receivers. Those things can't happen against the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers.
Thanks goodness the Ravens were playing the Browns.
Veteran experience needed
If right guard Marshal Yanda doesn't play Sunday because of the bruised ribs and thighs, the Ravens will miss him mentally more than physically.
Yanda helps keep right offensive tackle Michael Oher straight during games as far as communication and blocking assignments. Without Yanda, the Ravens would start Andre Gurode, who is in his first year in the Ravens' offense. Lack off familiarity on that side would be a problem, just like earlier this season when Gurode replaced left guard Ben Grubbs, and he had to team with left tackle Bryant McKinnie. Neither had been in the offense before and both struggled.
He's still fresh
The Ravens really need the bye week in the playoffs.
Aside from injuries, some of the veterans like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Matt Birk and Cory Redding could use the time off to rest.
One player, though, who has remained fresh is running back Ray Rice. Maybe that's because they signed him a bodyguard this season named Vonta Leach, and backup Ricky Williams has played well in relief of Rice.
"Me? Am I still fresh?," asked Rice. "This is the time of year where you obviously have to take care of your body. Taking care of my body is No. 1, especially at the running back position. I am getting the carries now, I am also getting some catches. I am mixing it up and I like to get the best of both worlds."
Don't need Mason
With the injury to receiver Anquan Boldin, there had been some speculation the Ravens might try to re-sign veteran receiver Derrick Mason, who was recently released by the Houston Texans.
Harbaugh said the Ravens probably wouldn't sign anyone off, and it makes no sense to bring back Mason at this time. The Ravens have good locker room chemistry and some young receivers who could step up to the challenge.
"Not at this time of the year, really," said Harbaugh about signing a player off waivers. "There's really not a lot of guys out there. If anything, people have been signing guys off their practice squads for about the last six weeks very aggressively. So, unless a name comes before us, which [we] have not seen yet, I'd say that's probably not going to happen."