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Ravens Special Teams Ranked 8th Leaguewide
BALTIMORE'S RANKING BEST IN EIGHT YEARS
By Joe Platania
The Ravens rode the legs of David Reed and the feet of Billy Cundiff and Sam Koch to the kind of special teams success that hasn't been seen around here in at least eight years.
Reed's NFL-best 29-yard kickoff average, Cundiff's first-ever Pro Bowl season that included a record-tying 40 touchbacks and Koch's precision punting led the Ravens to the No. 8 ranking in the annual Dallas Morning News special-teams rankings, released over the weekend.
The DMN chart is the only measuring stick that can adequately quantify how good any squad's units are, because there are no official NFL rankings for them as there are for offense and defense.
Noted DMN columnist and longtime Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Rick Gosselin came up with the annual special teams rankings and compiled them in a very simple fashion.
A reverse point system is assigned to a team's unit with 1 point if a team is the best in a given category and 32 for the worst, with the lowest score gaining the highest ranking, as in golf. The rankings cover 22 specialized kicking-game categories, from field-goal percentage to blocked kicks to special-teams penalties.
Baltimore notched 311 points to edge out the Pittsburgh Steelers for the eighth spot. Among other AFC North teams, the Josh Cribbs-paced Cleveland Browns units fell from the top of the rankings to third, while the Cincinnati Bengals were mired in 28th place, one notch ahead of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
Green Bay's 29th-place ranking ties last year's New Orleans team for the lowest special-teams ranking by a Super Bowl champion. But lest anyone think the rankings are irrelevant, the San Diego Chargers' 9-7 record wasn't enough for a playoff berth thanks in part to special teams play that DMN ranked the absolute worst in the league.
On top of that, the Seattle Seahawks were widely criticized for making the playoffs with a 7-9 record, the first team to ever accomplish that. But their special-teams play was consistently better than more than half the teams in the league, leading to a postseason berth and a first-round win against the defending champion Saints.
The Ravens' special-teams play improved as the season progressed and the team got comfortable with young players such as Reed returning kicks and Lardarius Webb bringing back punts.
Their efforts, combined with that of Cundiff and Koch, put a halt to a string of mediocre Baltimore showings in the DMN survey. Beginning in 2004, Baltimore has ranked 11th, 23rd, 12th, 16th, 22nd and tied for 18th on Gosselin's chart.
The Ravens' consistently middling special-teams finishes had constituted a rather surprising development, considering special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg's units in Cleveland were the NFL's best in average Gosselin ranking from 2002-2006.
Not only that, but when head coach John Harbaugh was the Philadelphia Eagles' special teams coordinator earlier in the decade, the Eagles were number one in the DMN survey in 2001.
Baltimore was one of six teams that did not allow any points on special-teams plays in 2010 and one of 13 teams that did not have a kick blocked. Koch's 39 coffin-corner punts were second only to the New York Jets' Steve Weatherford (42) and Cundiff's 90 percent success rate on field goals was not far behind Minnesota's Ryan Longwell and his 30-for-31 (94.4 percent) clip.
Thanks to Cundiff's touchbacks, the Ravens ranked second to Atlanta in opponents' average drive start (23.7-yard line). But when a kickoff was returned, Baltimore allowed an NFL-worst 26 yards per runback, likely costing it a higher DMN ranking.
Also, early-season punt return problems led to the Ravens allowing more than 39 yards per opponents' net punt, only two yards less than the Arizona Cardinals' NFL-worst 41.4-yard rate.
Here is the complete list of the Dallas Morning News' annual special-teams rankings, with the team's 2009 ranking in parentheses:
DALLAS MORNING NEWS
2010 SPECIAL TEAMS RANKINGS
1. New England Patriots (16)
2. Tennessee Titans (26)
3. Cleveland Browns (1)
T4. Chicago Bears (6)
T4. Oakland Raiders (13)
T4. Seattle Seahawks (11)
7. New York Jets (5)
8. Baltimore Ravens (T18)
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (15)
10. Atlanta Falcons (14)
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (30)
12. Arizona Cardinals (8)
13. Washington Redskins (27)
14. Philadelphia Eagles (17)
15. Detroit Lions (25)
16. St. Louis Rams (T18)
17. San Francisco 49ers (21)
T18. Minnesota Vikings (9)
T18. New Orleans Saints (29)
20. Dallas Cowboys (4)
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2)
22. Houston Texans (22)
23. Carolina Panthers (32)
24. Kansas City Chiefs (12)
25. Miami Dolphins (10)
26. Denver Broncos (24)
27. Buffalo Bills (3)
28. Cincinnati Bengals (23)
29. Green Bay Packers (31)
30. New York Giants (20)
31. Indianapolis Colts (28)
32. San Diego Chargers (7)
Posted Feb. 13, 2011
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