The Ravens are sending kicker Justin Tucker and long snapper Morgan Cox to the Pro Bowl, indicative of a place-kicking operation that remains perhaps the best in the NFL. Overall, though, Ravens special teams left much to be desired in 2019 according to the annual ratings compiled by veteran NFL writer Rick Gosselin.
The Gosselin special teams rankings, widely regarded as the best evaluation of overall special teams play, ranks all 32 teams in 22 special-teams categories including such things as kick and punt returns, kick and punt coverage, takeaways, blocked kicks and penalties. The teams are then assigned points for each category, with 1 point for the best and 32 points for the worst.
The Ravens ranked 27th overall, a sharp departure for an organization that had ranked in the top six in the previous seven seasons. No other team had even been in the top 10 in each of those seasons. The Ravens finished first in the Gosselin rankings in 2015 and second in 2012. They were sixth last year.
The New Orleans Saints ranked first this season, followed by the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots.
The Ravens’ struggles on special teams must be particularly vexing to head coach John Harbaugh, who cut his teeth as a special teams coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Under the direction of first-year special teams coordinator Chris Horton, who succeeded Jerry Rosburg after Rosburg’s retirement, the Ravens again were one of the best place-kicking teams in the league. Yet the Ravens had issues in other areas. The Ravens ranked 30th in the league in kickoff returns, averaging 18.3 yards a return. Rookie Justice Hill held the job early in the year, but a couple of bobbles cost him the job, and midseason acquisition De’Anthony Thomas showed little, averaging 16.6 yards on 10 returns.
The Ravens also yielded 9.5 yards per punt return, the fourth-highest average in the league, and the unit seemed to suffer after Pro Bowl special teamer Justin Bethel was released in a midseason move to preserve a future compensatory draft pick.
Other issues for the special teams included a kickoff return touchdown by the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6 and a punt that was blocked and returned for a touchdown by the New York Jets in Week 15.
At least the Ravens have Tucker, who Tucker made 28 of 29 field-goal attempts this season and remains the most accurate kicker in NFL history with a career success rate of 90.8 percent (265-292). Tucker nailed game-winning kicks in overtime at Pittsburgh and as time expired against San Francisco, two of the more notable wins en route to the Ravens’ franchise-best 14-2 record. Those were the 14th and 15th game-winning kicks of Tucker’s career.
The Ravens also got another solid season out of punter Sam Koch, who also serves as Tucker’s holder. Koch ranked tied for ninth in the league with an average punt of 46.4 yards, but with the Ravens’ record-setting offense working in high gear much of the year, and with Harbaugh’s aggressive nature on fourth down, Koch punted only 40 times, by far the fewest of his career. The Ravens set a franchise record low with 41 punts this year (40 by Koch and one blocked), nearly 20 fewer than any other season in team history.
Koch, incidentally, has played in 224 games for the Ravens, five shy of the franchise record held by linebacker Terrell Suggs.
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