The one glaring area in need of improvement after last week’s win over Denver was in the special teams coverage units.
The Ravens allowed a kick and punt return touchdown to Broncos return man Trindon Holliday, the first special teams touchdowns surrendered all season. After playing solid on special teams all year, the return miscues were a wake-up call to the coverage units.
“When you have a game such as last week it certainly grabs your attention, and you want to react and you want to do something to try to make things right,” Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “But at the same time, you can’t overreact, because we’ve had consistent coverage all season, and I fully expect our guys to be really focused on the task at hand.”
Rosburg doesn’t plan to institute any wholesale changes ahead of Sunday’s AFC championship game with the Patriots, but he does expect the Ravens to clean up their mistakes.
“I think the one thing that I think really will change is that our performance will change,” Rosburg said.
“I was certainly upset. When you give up two touchdowns, that’s unacceptable in a season let alone [in] one game. We are all very fortunate, those of us in the special teams room, that the rest of the team played as well as it did to still secure the victory.”
The play of the coverage units has been a strength this season, as the Ravens only allowed 7.8 yards per punt return (7th in NFL) and 23.4 yards per kickoff return (12th) in the regular season.
In the divisional round against the Colts, the Ravens didn’t allow a single return yard.
“We’ve had a good season,” Rosburg said. “We’ve had a good season in coverage, and we’ve had a good season in returns. So, I have a lot of confidence in our guys.”
Like the Ravens, the Patriots are also trying to shore up their coverage units.
The Patriots struggled against Texans’ return man Danieal Manning last week, allowing him to rack up an average of 54 yards per kickoff return. He broke the opening kickoff for a 94-yard return, which led to an early Houston field goal.
“If we keep playing like that, we're not going to get very far, we're not going to be playing a lot more football," Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater said. "We can't give the opposing team field position like that and all, so we just have to look at the tape and see what's happening and see where our breakdowns were and try and get it fixed."
The Patriots were one of the best teams at defending kickoff returns during the regular season, allowing just 20.5 yards per return, which ranked third in the NFL.
But if their special teams struggles again Sunday, that could be an advantage for the Ravens with
“It’s our jobs on a return game to try to set up our offense,” Rosburg said. “So that’s what we’re going to do when we get there on Sunday.”