I feel like every single week for the last month and a half I've ended up writing a post about how the Ravens' return unit is struggling and needs to find a spark.
Seriously, before posting this, I had to go back through my last few weeks of entries to make sure that I wasn't using the same headline that I'd used previously.
John Harbaugh must be getting sick of answering questions about how his return game is sputtering so badly, but beyond that, the former special teams coordinator must be even more sick every gameday when he watches his punt and kick return units churn out little to no yards and put the ball on the ground.
Entering their game against the Falcons two days ago, the Ravens statistically had the worst punt return unit in the league, and after their performance on Thursday night, that's unlikely to change.
The Ravens averaged eight yards on two punt returns, giving them a yearly average of 6.0 yards per return. Just as a reference point, the Bears, who have the top punt return unit in the NFL, are getting a whopping 10 yards more per return than the Ravens.
To make matters worse, Lardarius Webb, who was so explosive for Baltimore in the return game last year before his knee injury, fumbled the ball away on a punt return in the second quarter, giving the Falcons possession in Ravens territory and allowing them to tack on a field goal at the end of the half to give themselves a 10-0 lead.
Webb wasn't the only guy that the Ravens sent in on punt returns; they also had safety Ed Reed go back to receive a punt deep in Baltimore territory on three occasions, but he had some issues as well.
The first time Reed was back deep, he called for a fair catch at the Baltimore six-yard line, which violates somewhat of an unwritten rule in the punt return game that most times, you should let a punt go and hope for a touchback when it comes down inside the 10.
Later in the game, Reed was back for another punt, and he opted to return it from the Ravens' five-yard line, a risky move with so many bodies all around him. Reed gained six yards on the return, but the play was brought back because of a penalty and Atlanta had to re-punt.
I'm like the idea of putting the ball in your playmakers' hands, but I get a little nervous every time I see Reed back deep on returns. You simply never know what the guy is going to do, and while he can create explosive plays at times, I feel like there's also a chance of disaster.
After the issues with Webb on Thursday, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw Donte' Stallworth get in on the punt return action as early as next Sunday's game against the Panthers.
He's now had two games to get into the flow of things from an offensive standpoint since returning from his broken foot, and I think it might be time to turn him loose on returns and see if he can bring a boost to that unit.
If he does get a chance, Stallworth would already be the fifth guy that the Ravens would have put in to return a punt this season.
That sure is a lot, but until they find a guy who can make a play every now and then and keep control of the football, Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg have no choice but to keep rotating players in and seeing if someone new can get the job done.