When you think of what defines the Ravens under John Harbaugh, a couple of different traits come to mind. Good defense, running the clock down with a dominant running game, changing offensive coordinators, and great special teams. I am going to focus on special teams in this post because everyone is talking about Lamar Jackson and his “inability to throw”. He might not need to though if the special teams can get the field position it is capable of getting.
The Ravens special teams have always been dominant, and recently it has been spectacular. Justin Tucker, who is the most accurate kicker in NFL history has astounded Ravens fans with incredible kicks from unheard of distances in practice and in games. I know people were making a huge deal about his missed extra point against the Saints, but how many things can you say that you have been perfect at for more than ten years? I can’t think of any other person in sports or otherwise who hasn’t messed up in the last decade. What Tucker has done in Baltimore is outstanding, and he will continue to put points on the board for the Ravens.
Sam Koch is a great punter who has more than ten different types of punts and also gives the Ravens an option to fake punts. He is 5 for 5 throwing, and he has picked up the first down on four of those completions. He really helps the Ravens flip field position and set the opposing teams up for incredibly long fields. Both Tucker and Koch are going to be back at their regular positions for the Ravens in 2019, so barring injury the Ravens will dominate those facets of the game.
The Ravens returners are a little iffier. The Ravens best punt returner last year Cyrus Jones, who the Ravens claimed off of waivers from the Patriots, didn’t come to mandatory minicamp because of undisclosed health issues. The Ravens hope he will be back, but if he isn’t the Ravens do have to have somebody back there, and preferably someone qualified. A couple of options are Willie Snead the veteran wide receiver, or speedy rookie running back Justice Hill. Alternatively, the Ravens picked up running back Tyler Ervin from the Texans onto their practice squad. I think that the Ravens would consider a whole roster spot going to a punt returner because it is a huge difference in starting field position. In the Ravens-Chiefs game last year, Cyrus Jones had a huge return that gave the Ravens a lot of momentum, a short field, and ultimately a touchdown. The difference between starting at the five versus the ten is huge. Momentum, personnel, and play choice are just a couple of the factors, and as Harbaugh is a former special teams coach will easily see the value in a roster spot for punt returner.
For kick returner, a roster spot should and likely won’t be given just for returner. Last year the Ravens used Chris Moore to return kicks, and he had varying success as he averaged 22.3 yards per kick return. Willie Snead also returned some kicks with even less success. The Ravens also have Justice Hill as I mentioned earlier, but on the Ravens depth chart, Jordan Lasley is listed third for both punt and kick returner. Lasley didn’t play a snap last year, and while he impressed at training camp last year, he will have an uphill battle to make the roster because of the abundance of new wide receivers taken in this year's draft. Kick returner is becoming more underused every season, as teams are more willing to take touchbacks and take a free pass to the 25-yard line. While not as important as a punt returner for many of the same reasons, kick returner is still an important part to any team, especially a team as special teams oriented as the Ravens.
One of the more underrated parts of the Ravens special teams was Jerry Rosburg, the former special teams coach. He had coached for more than 40 years including eleven on the Ravens (since Harbaugh became the head coach), and he was the assistant head coach. Unfortunately, he retired and Chris Horton replaced him. The Ravens special teams should still be good. It just might not be as good especially at making the play call. Luckily Harbaugh is a former special teams coach so he should be there to help with a bunch of the decisions that will have to be made during the game. The Ravens are hoping that Rosburg’s retirement will not be as short-lived as Dean Pees who took a different coaching job after he retired from the Ravens. Rosburg said that he retired for family reasons, so hopefully, the Ravens won’t be disappointed.
Special teams are part of the Ravens DNA. Anytime a bad play happens the Ravens are criticized for not being their usually perfect selves. The Ravens thrive on great players such as Justin Tucker and Sam Koch, (and the always perfect long snapper Morgan Cox), and hopefully, if Cyrus Jones gets healthy, the punt return game should be very potent. Kick returner matters less every year, but the Ravens hope they have the right guy in the building, and I think they do.