One of the more underrated components of an NFL team is their special teams play. Of course, we all love seeing a booming punt, 50+ yard field goal, or return for a touchdown. But those yard saving tackles, turnovers, and blocked kicks have a huge impact on game results. The guys that make those plays are often little known heroes.
Special teams has played a key role in the success of the Ravens for quite some time now. In fact, they are the only team in the league to finish in the top 5 in both 2012 and 2013 – coming in at 3rd in 2012 and 5th in 2013. The NFL has no official ranking for special teams, so these rankings have been completed each year since 1980 by columnist Rick Gosselin at the Dallas Morning News.
Gosselin assigns a point value, with 1 being the best and 32 being the worst, to each statistic that a special team can obtain. The points are added up and the lower the score, the higher the rank. Last season, the Ravens ranked only behind the Patriots, 49ers, Chiefs, and Cowboys.
Certainly not a bad ranking considering the Ravens committed a good deal of penalties and punter Sam Koch had a pretty awful stretch in September and October last season. Justin Tucker’s (tied) league leading 38 field goals certainly helped, as did their top five finish in both punt (14.2) and kick (26.4) return average.
If you still have any doubts about the impact special teams play can have on a team, consider the Kansas City Chiefs. After ranking near the bottom of the league in 2012 when they posted a 2-12 record, 2013 saw them rise to third in special teams rank and post an 11-5 record. Improved special teams play most definitely had at least something to do with that.
So at least we know that special teams play isn’t what sunk the Ravens in 2014. In fact, it most likely saved them from an even worse record. Six of the Raven’s eight wins in 2013 were by one score. Imagine how different things would be if they had lost even half of those six games. There’s a big difference in the NFL between 8-8 and 5-11.
Since we are tentatively expecting major improvement from both the offense and defense in 2014, can we also expect the special teams unit to continue their solid play? A quick look at the roster says yes. Justin Tucker is back and may get a contract extension before the season, and the Ravens brought in competition for Sam Koch to put the heat on him.
All the core special teamers from last season are returning for 2014 – Anthony Levine (84% of snaps), Kyle Juszczyk (76%), Chykie Brown (70%), Albert McClellan (68%), and Josh Bynes (60%). Jacoby Jones is back as well and promises to be his usual lethal self on both punt and kick returns.
While there are question marks surrounding the team following last year’s disappointing finish, it’s safe to say that special teams isn’t one of them. This unit has proven that they are going to leave it all on the field no matter what the scoreboard says, and they are truly an asset to the team.
How do you think special teams will perform in 2014?