It’s time to give the Ravens’ special teams unit their due

Ravens (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Ravens (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Special teams’ success has been a Baltimore Ravens bedrock ever since John Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2008.

Harbaugh has always emphasized Special teams, leading to the Ravens finishing in the top ten in Football Outsiders’ Special teams DVOA metric in all but two of Harbaugh’s seasons in Baltimore, and in every year since 2012.

A large reason for this is Justin Tucker. Tucker has unequivocally been the best kicker in football during his time in Baltimore, and may already be the best kicker in the history of the game.

But all the attention that Tucker gets overshadows what is consistently a holistically dominant special teams unit.

This has been more important than ever for the 2022 Ravens, who are once again currently first in the NFL in special teams DVOA and have relied on every facet of their special teams to help maintain that unit as the one steady part of the team in what has otherwise been a turbulent road to a 9-4 record.

And following a win against the Steelers in which special teams played a major role, it is time to give the unit its due.

Justin Tucker

I know I just emphasized the holistic nature of the Ravens’ special teams unit, but it is important to understand how important Justin Tucker has been to the 2022 Ravens.

Tucker has once again been the best kicker in football, having missed only three kicks all year which came on a doinked 56-yard attempt, a blocked 61-yard attempt, and a 67-yard attempt that came just short.

And with the struggles that the Ravens’ offense has had finishing drives, they have relied on him more than ever.

They are currently 3-0 in the division, and Tucker has made at least three field goals in each of those wins, serving as a dynamic force for an offense that has often felt stagnant.

He serves as a weapon to help steal points during periods when the offense has trouble moving the ball.

Tucker has made three separate 55+ yard field goals in 2022 on Ravens possessions that started within seven yards of midfield, helping bail out futile drives by salvaging three points.

Everyone knows how good he is, but the 2022 Ravens have particularly needed him to help the offense keep pace during times of stagnation.

A Complete Unit

While Tucker has been his usual dominant self, the Ravens once again have one of the best overall special teams units in football.

Football Outsiders breaks down their special teams’ ratings into point systems for each phase of the game, where points are given based on field position.

The Ravens rank in the top ten in kickoff, kickoff return, and punt value, and rank 11th in punt value, a level of consistency that has helped provide the Ravens a consistent field position advantage.

One of the biggest factors in Baltimore’s consistent ability to gain an edge in the kicking game is the team’s coaching.

Harbaugh is a former special teams coordinator, and current special teams coordinator Chris Horton is one of the best special teams assistants in the game.

While special teams metrics are based on field position, the Ravens have consistently come up with big plays that are non-predictive but can be attributed to excellent in-the-moment coaching.

Take Calais Campbell’s field goal block against Pittsburgh.

This was Baltimore’s second clutch field goal block of the year, and Campbell talked postgame about how Horton called an audible, telling Campbell to try a move he had not worked on since last year in order to attack a different gap.

Another example of the Ravens’ special teams discipline came in their win against the Buccaneers, when Justice Hill pushed a Tampa Bay blocker into the returner as he attempted to catch the ball, forcing a muff that Baltimore recovered inside Tampa’s ten-yard line.

While that is a one-off play that is not likely to happen again, it is nevertheless indicative of the discipline and awareness embedded in every Ravens special teams player.

And beyond the play-to-play brilliance of the unit, Harbaugh may also be the best situational special teams coach in football.

Considering Harbaugh called for his punter to take an intentional safety in the Super Bowl, it should be no surprise that the Ravens are consistently able to fuse special teams with game management brilliance.

In last week’s win against Denver, one of the most important hidden plays of the game came on the kickoff after Tyler Huntley’s go-ahead touchdown.

Instead of kicking the ball through the end zone, Justin Tucker kicked the ball short of the goal line and the Ravens stopped the return at the 18-yard line.

While there was of course a small risk of a big return, the majority of kickoff returns wind up inside the 25-yard line, and even a return that yielded the same value as a touchback would take time off the clock.

By kicking the ball short, the Ravens wound up costing Denver seven yards of field position and five seconds of game clock on their final drive.

This proved to be vital, as Denver was eventually forced to try a 63-yard field goal which fell short, a try that could have been made easier by better starting field position and a chance at an extra play.

A Steadying Presence

The Ravens’ special teams until has helped give the 2022 team more time.

This is a team that has consistently dealt with injuries and inconsistency on both sides of the ball, but Baltimore’s special teams unit has remained the one constant, helping the team pull out ugly wins in adverse situations en route to a 9-4 record and the division.

Ravens DE Calais Campbell is sacking quarterbacks and sacking hunger. dark. Next

The Ravens face many questions that will need to be answered if they want to make a Super Bowl run, but one thing they have always been able to count on is the calming, steadying presence of their special teams.