Snaps Must Be Corrected

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As they prepare for a playoff matchup with the New England Patriots, the Ravens know that the outcome could very well boil down to a field goal.

The question is: Will it split the uprights? Or even get to them.

The Ravens are coming off a game in which two field goals were missed in Oakland's pristine conditions. Two poor snaps from Matt Katula threw off the timing of the field-goal operation, leading kicker Billy Cundiff to push a 37-yard attempt right and fall short on a 51-yarder.

"I thought we had a reasonable chance to make that field goal," head coach John Harbaugh said of Cundiff's 51-yard boot. "But in order to do that, you have to snap it, you have to hold it, you have to kick it and all has to go well, and obviously that didn't happen. So we have to have a better operation in either one of those two attempts."

Both field-goal snaps went low and inside to holder Sam Koch in what has become a troubling trend.

Katula, who is on the injury report this week with tendinitis in his elbow, previously had a bad snap with former kicker Steve Hauschka, had a low snap on an extra point and a high one that caused a missed field goal on Dec. 20 against the Chicago Bears, and even sailed one high to Koch on a punt.

Despite Katula's misfires, the Ravens are sticking by the fifth-year snapper and are not going to make any roster moves at the position.

"Matt Katula is a quality long snapper in this league," stated Harbaugh. "You see it in practice every single day. You see it in pregame. You see it in most of his snaps during the game. He'd be the first to tell you he's got to be better in that situation, and he does have to be better in that situation. But, he's a really good snapper, and he's going to be fine."

For things to go smoothly in a chilly Gillette Stadium this Sunday, Katula, Cundiff and Koch are working hard to ensure their timing – from snap to hold to kick – is correct to the millisecond.

"It's anywhere from 1.28 [seconds] on the fast side to about 1.32," said Cundiff, a fifth-year veteran signed on Nov. 18. "We even have it down to the time Matt gets guys out of the huddle to the line. We try to make sure everything is coordinated, so when you get on the field, you stop thinking and just do. Let's fall back on the instincts we've created. We do so many reps and do a lot of visualization scenarios, you can just do it. Things didn't click last game."

Several reporters and TV cameras surrounded Katula on Wednesday, a typically-rare occurrence that is becoming more of a regularity.

But that's what happens when the least-recognizable job on a football team receives attention for the wrong thing.

"I feel it's my job to be unnoticed," Katula said. "This is a different feeling for me. I'm not use to having [reporters] around my locker.

"It's frustrating, but I brought it on myself."

The issues began when his hand was stepped on earlier this year, and then he missed practice before a Week 16 game in Pittsburgh because of the elbow.

Katula said the tendinitis is "getting better, but still lingering," and the Ravens will need his best for the wild-card playoff game.

Cundiff believes the trio can overcome any circumstances, but admits it is a challenge when things don't run like clockwork.

For one, Cundiff explained that he went from a three- to a two-step approach this spring to remove unnecessary movement, which shortens his adjustment time. And, a snap that is low and away removes the ball from his sightline, forcing him to locate quickly when it is placed.

Still, he is thankful to play alongside Katula and Koch.

"Both these guys are really good," Cundiff said. "Sam is always spot-on. And when I came here, [former Ravens punter] Dave Zastudil texted me about how much he loved Katula. Our special teams coach [Jerry Rosburg] thinks the same thing. I want to make sure that if something's going wrong, all three of us are working on it. We know that if it's a really tight game, Matt's going to give us a good snap. When we need him, he's there."

The Ravens' specialists are expecting that tight game, and they must. Cundiff hasn't kicked in Foxborough, Mass., since 2003 with the Dallas Cowboys, but connected on both of his attempts in a chilly Steelers contest on Dec. 27.

Koch's 42.0-yard net average on three punts was his second-highest of the season when the Ravens played at New England in Week 4.

As for Katula, both Cundiff and Koch trust he will hold up his end of the operation.

"It's going to be business as usual," Koch said. "I think we're all doing a good job of improving. If you look at the pressure situations this year, those are the ones that come right over the spot. It's just one of those things as a unit we'll have to continue to practice."

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