Sam Koch is a Pro Bowl-caliber punter to whom Baltimore gave a five-year contract extension in February of 2011. He was named to the USA Football All Fundamentals Team in 2010.
But something has gone awry for Koch recently.
In Cleveland, he shanked a 25-yard punt that helped set up the Browns for their final clock-eating drive to seal a 24-18 victory. He also hit two touchbacks instead of pinning Cleveland deep.
"He's struggling a little bit in games," Head Coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday's loss in Cleveland. "He's had one or two bad punts every game. That's not Sam."
Koch is averaging a net of 37.6 yards per punt, his lowest mark since 2007. He's hitting the ball an average of 44.8 yards, down from the past two seasons and ranking 21st in the NFL.
In Week 5 in Miami, Koch had a pair of shanks, both traveling only 26 yards. Against Green Bay a week later, he had his second blocked punt of the year, a bad touchback and a miss-hit that went 38 yards. In Pittsburgh, he hit a punt into the end zone to spoil good field position at the start of the second half.
On Sunday in Cleveland, Koch had three subpar punts.
The first came on the Ravens' opening offensive drive. Baltimore had excellent starting field position at its own 47, but the offense went three-and-out. The Ravens were looking to pin the Browns deep as some consolation, but Koch's punt landed just outside the end zone and bounced in. The Ravens' early momentum and field position was wasted.
Koch had a similar punt at the end of the Ravens' first drive of the second half. Trailing by four points, the Ravens moved the ball to the Cleveland 45 and stalled. Instead of pinning the Browns deep, Koch again boomed a punt into the end zone.
The most costly was his 25-yard shank in the fourth quarter. The Ravens moved the ball to their own 46-yard line with six minutes, 41 seconds remaining. Koch faced hardly any rush, but hit the punt out of bounds to the left at the 29-yard line. Cleveland's offense had plenty of room to work with.
"I'm sure he got the ball inside, for some reason on the drop, don't know why," Harbaugh said. "Maybe he was a little bit long with his footwork, but we needed a big punt there and didn't get one."
The struggles are unusual for Koch, who is in his eighth season. And Harbaugh said he's been punting well in practice.
"Sam and I talked about [his troubles] the past two weeks," Harbaugh said. "He's punting well in practice, his technique is really good."