With playoffs approaching, special teams must improve

Take a look at the comments made by Browns punt returner Josh Cribbs following his 84-yard punt return for a touchdown in Saturday’s Ravens win.

“I didn’t have to make too many people miss, and I was wondering where all the defenders were,” Cribbs said. “I saw all of the great blocking around me. From there, it was easy. It was just a walk in. No jets at all.”

No jets at all. That’s never a good thing to hear, when the guy who just returned a punt for a touchdown against you is saying he wondered where all the coverage guys were and that he barely had to make an effort in order to run one back 84 yards.

The Ravens have had their share of special teams issues this season, as they’ve now allowed two punt returns for touchdowns (the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson had the other, an 82-yarder back in Week 8) and a kickoff return for a score, as well (the Jets’ Joe McKnight was responsible for that one, a 107-yarder in Week 4).

Those are the type of blunders you can’t be making deep into the season, when you’ve had months to work on your kick coverage and when the importance of the games you’re playing starts to intensify.

It’s one thing to allow a special teams score back in Week 4; it’s another to give up a touchdown due to faulty coverage in Week 16 when you’re kicking to a guy battling a groin injury and with playoff positioning on the line.

“We wanted to pin the ball over on the left sideline, and we didn’t,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the game. “We kicked (Cribbs) a ball that we don’t kick very often, and I think when you give a returner like that an opportunity like that in space, in those kinds of conditions, he made us pay for it. It was not good coverage, it was not a good punt, and we have to do better than that. That’s really what got them back in the game.”

Luckily, the Ravens were able to creep by the Browns on Saturday, but Harbaugh is right - the Cribbs touchdown gave the Browns new life and spurred them to a 14-point second-half comeback.

Overall this season, the Ravens rank toward the very bottom of the league in kickoff coverage, allowing about 30 yards per kick return against. Their punt coverage is a little better, but after the Cribbs touchdown, they’re now allowing close to 12 yards per punt return.

In the playoffs, when field position is so important, those numbers could come back to haunt the Ravens. They can’t be allowing special teams touchdowns, and they can’t be giving up great field position due to poor coverage.

Those are the things that can lose you a postseason game, especially when your offense isn’t exactly the type to put up 35 points every time out.

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