Posted in Ashley's 3 big questions

Baltimore Ravens Three Big Questions About The Special Teams

By: Ashley Anderson

It’s time for 3 Baltimore Ravens questions about special teams. As a former special teams coordinator, Head Coach John Harbaugh has always put a huge emphasis on having a well-rounded special teams unit. Although some players prefer to be divas or stars, Ravens players seem to embrace the grind of the “other third” of football. With the best kicker and arguably top punter in the NFL, it may seem like this is a group without any lingering questions. However, there are a few areas of intrigue.

3.) Will Justin Tucker continue to lead the NFL in all-time accuracy?

What Justin Tucker has done in his nine seasons is nothing short of remarkable. Year after year while other kickers struggle, the Ravens have been able to rest easy knowing they have the NFL’s all-time leader in field goal accuracy. With a current success rate of 90.65%, the bar is high for Tucker.

It is tough to imagine a time when Tucker somehow went undrafted out of the University of Texas. The opera singing, Royal Farms commercial star came to Baltimore in 2012, and he quickly became a fan favorite. Winning the fan base over was easy considering Billy Cundiff broke hearts all around Baltimore few months prior. No one will ever forget Cundiff’s shanked 32-yard field goal try that squashed the Ravens’ last opportunity in the 2011-2012 season AFC Championship game. Just saying “Cundiff” is enough to trigger PTSD in Baltimore.

Tucker helped erase most of those memories, however. He has been the model of consistency, and his work ethic is unmatched. Year after year as kickers join the Ravens for training camp, he provides an example of what it takes to make it in the NFL. As such, Baltimore has churned out numerous prolific kickers since his arrival, although none have challenged his roster spot.

During training camp this year, Tucker said he feels like he is just hitting his prime. Kickers can theoretically play much longer than most other guys, and at age 31, he still has plenty of gas in the tank. The Baltimore Ravens are surely confident Tucker will continue to be the gold standard among kickers, and he will accept nothing less from himself.

2.) Who will step up to provide leadership for the Baltimore Ravens?

The Ravens took a gamble when they chose to part ways with long-time special teams ace Anthony Levine. Better known as Co Cap around Baltimore, Levine provided a great deal of leadership on the special teams unit. Although the Ravens added him back to their practice squad, there may be weeks where he does not receive a call-up due to more pressing needs. 

Also known for their special teams contributions, Justice Hill and LJ Fort are out for the season with a ruptured Achilles and torn ACL respectively. In addition, Baltimore waived veteran Jordan Richards from the practice squad to make room for Le’Veon Bell. At this point, this is a unit lacking a big-name veteran presence.

As previously mentioned, head coach John Harbaugh expects everyone to be prepared to play special teams. Veteran linebacker Josh Bynes was recently added to the practice squad, and fellow linebackers Chris Board and Kristian Welch will likely be heavily relied upon as well. In addition, the younger players Baltimore kept due to their high ceilings will earn more playing time by embracing and excelling on special teams. Though there is not one clear leader like Levine on the 53-man roster, Baltimore is counting on someone to emerge from the pack. 

1.) How will the Wolfpack look with Nick Moore at long snapper?

Since 2012, the Ravens relied on the well-oiled machine known as the Wolfpack on field goal and extra-point attempts. Long snapper Morgan Cox got the ball to punter Sam Koch, and Koch promptly faced the laces out for Tucker to put the ball through the uprights. Save for nine games in 2014 when Cox was injured, that was simply the Raven way.

The trio became so close, no one could imagine one without the other. Even as Koch approaches age 40, it seemed like they would be a unit forever. However, in one of the most surprising moves of the offseason, Baltimore parted ways with Cox in favor of Nick Moore.

Moore, a former Georgia Bulldog, spent most of the 2020 season on the Ravens practice squad. When Cox was placed on the Covid-19 list, Moore was activated for one game on December 2nd versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. There was no noticeable drop-off in production, and he did not commit any major gaffes. As a result, the Ravens felt comfortable moving forward with a younger, cheaper option.

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Cox is more well-known than most long snappers in the NFL, and he deserves a round of applause for a stellar career in Baltimore. For Moore, the best thing he could do is fly under the radar. When people are not hearing your name as a long snapper, it usually means you are doing your job well. While they rarely get much credit, long snappers are crucial to the field goal and punting units, and the focus will be on Moore until he proves to be as reliable as Cox.

 

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens: Special teams must be special

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens are going into the 2021 season without “The Wolfpack.” Morgan Cox is no longer the long snapper for Sam Koch and Justin Tucker.

This isn’t necessarily a concern, but Nick Moore has to earn the Ravens’ piece of mind here. The job of a long snapper is to do your job so smoothly that the fans never even learn your name. There’s plenty of Ravens fans that have no clue who Moore is. That has to remain the same.

The Baltimore Ravens have to get the job done on special teams. It could be a real difference-maker for them. Close games are determined by the little things. Mistakes on special teams are costly.

Many mistakes you don’t really see. A punt returner calling a fair catch with plenty of green grass in front of him is probably giving up 10-12 yards of field position. A special teamer gets out of his lane and the opponent gets 20 more yards on a return. It’s not just missed kicks, bad snaps, and fumbles that hurt you when you don’t have special teams that are special.

Things to think about:

The first issue is life without Morgan Cox. That will most likely be a seamless transition. The Ravens wouldn’t make the change if they weren’t confident in Moore. Still, Koch was really used to handling one person’s snaps for a long time. I’m not staying up at night worried about the Ravens long snapper, but I’m not taking it for granted either.

The Ravens are also without Chris Moore. Now, Moore was quite frankly a bad wide receiver. That said he was a stud on special teams. He was a gunner on punt team. He lined up outside, turned on the jets, and made plays down the field. Moore was also handy for fake punts (It’s about the only passes he caught, or at least it feels like it).

The Ravens may want to figure out the punt returner job. The one thing we do know is that Devin Duvernay is the best option at kickoff returner. If Duvernay gets an increased workload in the offense, having somebody else do punt returns is a good idea.

As a kickoff return specialist, Duvernay got the job done. Duvernay averaged 27.5 yards a return and scored a touchdown. Duvernay finished 10th in the NFL for kickoff return yards. There should be no competition here. Duvernay did that in his rookie season. He’s only going to get better and it’s important to remember that he had only 21 kickoff return attempts.

The Ravens get a special teams boost from Justin Tucker being the greatest kicker of all time. Statistically, there has never been a more reliable kicker in the NFL. Sam Koch is the longest-tenured Ravens player. He’s been the punter in Baltimore since Brian Billick was the head coach. That’s a fact that is almost hard to believe.

The Baltimore Ravens bottom line:

The boost the Ravens should get from their specialists is substantial. If the Ravens can fill the units around these specialists with strong play, the special teams could be a great advantage for Baltimore. Strong special teams will add up over the season. When it’s going right, you don’t always realize how much it matters.

The Ravens have a very stacked roster. This is exactly what every special teams coordinator wants to see. The back-end of the roster makes it largely on special teams. Chris Horton, the Ravens special teams coordinator has some talented players to put on his unit.

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The Ravens have a chance to be one of the best teams in the NFL. Special teams have to live up to the talent on this roster for the Ravens to win it all. It’s not something to overlook when you’re getting ready for the season.