You know all about Joe Flacco. You’ve seen countless Terrell Suggs sacks. You get that the Ravens are going to give the Patriots a tough game. The Patriots have had issues with Baltimore in the past, but this Pats team is stronger than the others – and this Ravens’ team could be weaker than the others.
But what if it is a close one? What if it comes down to one or two big plays?
What you probably haven’t thought much about is each team’s special teams unit. Or maybe, you caught some of the playoff games this past weekend and saw just how important special teams can be.
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In Dallas-Detroit, Lions punter Sam Martin shanked a 10-yard punt in the fourth quarter, giving the Cowboys great field position en route to the game-winning touchdown. Earlier in the game, Cowboys field goal kicker Dan Bailey missed a 41-yard field goal after the Cowboys intercepted Matthew Stafford deep in Detroit’s territory.
A day earlier, in the Cardinals-Panthers game, the Cardinals couldn’t get out of their own way on offense. On special teams? It was somehow just as bad. Punter Drew Butler had the worst game of his career. Nine punts, five of which went for 33 yards or less – one for 20 yards. The Panthers muffed a return, too, eventually leading to a Cardinals TD.
And then we have the Ravens, who weren’t exactly clean against the Steelers. They had a punt blocked late in the game that ended up being a Steelers safety. They also lined up with too many men as the Steelers attempted a field goal, instead giving them a first down on the drive.
The Ravens have a new long-snapper in Patrick Scales, signed by the team on Dec. 18 to replace Kevin McDermott, who was placed on IR. Scales had no regular season experience prior to these last few games. His high snap on Saturday contributed to the Steelers’ blocked punt, and that group could still be working out the kinks.
The Patriots have consistently played great on special teams all season. They have four field goal blocks this season, two of which were returned for touchdowns. They also blocked a punt during the year, one that put them in the end zone one play later.
Patriots punter Ryan Allen and Ravens punter Sam Koch are two of the best in the game, and the same goes for place kickers Stephen Gostkowski and Justin Tucker.
With two long-time special teams gurus Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh in charge of their respective teams, you can bet a strong emphasis will be put on that phase of the game.