Cundiff and Phillips lead another strong special teams effort

Billy Cundiff’s kickoff numbers are starting to turn heads and frustrate opponents.

Cundiff, the six-year veteran who earned the Ravens’ kicking job out of training camp in large part because of his performance on kickoffs, recorded touchbacks on four of his six kicks yesterday in a 31-17 win over the Broncos.

That gives Cundiff 11 touchbacks on the season, tied for the best mark in the NFL. His kickoffs have traveled an average of 72.7 yards, up nearly 10 yards from his career average.

“I felt good,” Cundiff said after the game yesterday. “I think Sam [Koch, punter] and I both took power shots to try to make a difference on special teams. We try to do that by kicking the ball as far as possible.”

“Billy hit it well in both directions,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “It makes your kickoff team excited because they know if you do bring it out, they’re going to have a good chance at nailing him.”

That’s exactly what happened early in the second quarter.

Cundiff’s first kickoff of the game had sent Broncos rookie kick returner Demaryius Thomas six yards deep, and he begrudgingly downed it for a touchback. After the Ravens took a 14-0 lead on their next drive, Cundiff sent another kickoff towards Thomas. This one landed five yards deep, but the rookie, anxious to make a play, decided to take it out anyway.

He probably wishes today that he hadn’t. When Thomas crossed the 15-yard line, he was dealt a huge hit by Ravens linebacker Jason Phillips, which sent Thomas to the turf and sent the football up into the air. The Ravens recovered the fumble, and four plays later, Cundiff added a 37-yard field goal to make it a 17-0 Baltimore lead.

“It looked like he really freakin’ hit the guy,” Cundiff said. “If he wants to bring the ball out [five] deep, then that’s probably what’s going to happen. At your own risk.”

Phillips was slightly more modest when asked about the play.

“Kickoff is kickoff, you’ve got to fly down there,” Phillips said. “Luckily, we’ve got enough good players on our team that they had to double some other guys. I had a single block and just got by him and made the hit good. That’s one thing we’ve been emphasizing is turnovers, so to get one out of it feels good not just for me for our whole special teams corps.”

Said Rosburg of the hit: “It was a fun play to watch.”

Kickoffs in general are becoming fun plays for Rosburg to watch. With Cundiff kicking the way he is and Phillips and the rest of the coverage unit flying to the ball, big special teams plays have been few and far between for the Ravens’ opponents this season.

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