By Gregory Hunt
Dating back to when the franchise was established in 1996, the Baltimore Ravens have been known for having a stout defensive. But thanks to first-year offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak helping quarterback Joe Flacco achieve the best statistical year of his career, the Ravens have also been fairly dangerous on offense this season. However, as the New England Patriots prepare for Saturday's Wild Game game against the Ravens at Gillette Stadium, head coach Bill Belichick took some time to praise Baltimore's special teams.
"The Ravens are very good in the kicking game, as they always are," Belichick said during Monday's conference call. "Both their kickers are big legs. They can really change field position or maintain field position, particularly as it relates to the kickoffs, or change field position in the punting game."
Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker, who played his college ball at Texas, is known for having one of the strongest legs in the NFL. He was 4th in the league in touchbacks this season, and he has successfully kicked 14 field goals of 50 yards or more in his three-year career. He also has a 61-yard field goal to his credit.
Punter Sam Koch is in his 9th year with the Ravens. The Nebraska product was impressive enough in college that the Ravens drafted him in the 6th round of the 2006 draft. This season, he was 4th in the league in gross punting average (47.4 yards) and 1st in the league in net punting average (43.3 yards). Some of the credit to the net average can be given to the coverage team.
"They have a lot of fast guys with good size -- linebackers, DBs, safeties -- and they use their receivers as well and a couple offensive players, the fullback and tight ends," Belichick said.
Wide receiver Jacoby Jones is also particularly dangerous on kick returns. He is a rare combination of speed and size (6-2, 215 lbs.) that makes him unafraid to return the ball even when it's kicked deep into the end zone. He returned one kick 108 yards for a touchdown this season, and he did the same thing against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, making it the longest single play in Super Bowl history. He was second in the NFL in kickoff return average this season with 30.6 yards per return. He was also 9th in the league in punt return average (9.2 yards).
"We got to defend sideline to sideline on him," said Belichick about covering Jones on returns. "If you give him any space, he can rip it up inside and run through arm tackles. He’s as dangerous as a return guy as there is in the league."
New England is also pretty good on special teams. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was recently named to the Pro Bowl for the third time in his career, while gunner Matthew Slater made the Pro Bowl roster for the 4th time. Also, wide receiver Julian Edelman is the franchise leader in punt return touchdowns with four.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on
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