Orr: Special teams ‘real disappointing’
Ravens have given up more return yards in five games than over all of last season
In the past, the Ravens have used special teams to flip outcomes of games in their favor. On Sunday, the unit had the opposite effect.
From surrendering an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter to failing badly on a fake-field-goal attempt in the second quarter to allowing punts to fall inside the 10-yard line, special teams were anything but special in the Ravens’ 16-10 loss to the Washington Redskins.
“It’s real disappointing,” inside linebacker Zachary Orr, typically a special teams standout, said of the unit’s troubles Sunday. “It’s something we’re not accustomed to at all.”
The gaffes on special teams began in the first quarter, when Jamison Crowder took Sam Koch’s punt 85 yards to tie the score at 7 with 4:52 left in the quarter. The punt return for a score was Washington’s first since 2008 and marked the second-longest punt return for a touchdown by a Ravens opponent — just 1 yard short of the Cincinnati Bengals’ Craig Yeast’s return Nov. 21, 1999.
Crowder slipped a tackle attempt by Orr and ran past Koch to the end zone. Opponents have gained 478 return yards against the Ravens; they surrendered 405 yards in 16 games last season.
“That was definitely disappointing,” said tight end Darren Waller, who was part of the coverage team on Crowder’s touchdown. “I feel like after that, the special teams leaders on the sidelines stepped it up, and after that, our punt coverage was pretty solid from there on. But we just can’t allow that to happen.”
Coach John Harbaugh pointed to that play as a turning point in the game.
“I told the team in there, it starts with that,” he said. “We have to get that fixed. Now we have special teams players who are starting on defense, and the young guys aren’t going to step up and play special teams, I guess. That has to change. We’re not having it. That’s what gave them the spark to get back in the game, in my mind. We let them back in the game with a punt return for a touchdown. It’s not what we do. That’s not winning football.” Jamison Crowder runs away from Ravens special teams players for an 85-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter, the Redskins’ first score. “We let them back in the game” with that play, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s not winning football.”
One quarter later, the team lined up for a 34-yard field-goal attempt. But kicker Justin Tucker, bizarrely lining up to take a left-footed kick, took a direct snap and rolled to his right. His pass to tight end Crockett Gillmore hit strong safety Duke Ihenacho in the helmet and bounced to the grass.
Tucker, who said the last time he threw a pass was at Westlake High in Austin, Texas, said it felt good when he let the ball go.
“I’d like to think I still have some football skills outside of just being able to kick the ball,” he said. “I trust my ability to throw the ball, catch the ball, run it, tackle somebody if I need to, and that’s what we had prescribed today. Would I like to have that one back? Sure, but we don’t get that luxury. We move on.
Harbaugh defended his decision to go for it.
“I’m not second-guessing it — you can second-guess it — but I’m not secondguessing it,” he said. “I’ve stood up here for nine years and said we’re going to be aggressive. People are going to have to defend fakes, they’re going to have to defend us going for it on fourth down. That’s just the way we’re going to continue to play, because that’s what we believe in. We believe in giving our players a chance to make plays, and we’re going to keep doing it. We’re not apologizing for that.”
Just about every phase of special teams went wrong for the Ravens. They also struggled returning punts.
In the fourth quarter, return specialist Devin Hester Sr. let a punt by Tress Way roll out of bounds at the Ravens 5-yard line, then let another punt get downed at the 8. Hester finally returned a punt 16 yards to set up the offense at the 44, but the play was negated by an illegal-block penalty on Anthony Levine Sr.
“We’ve got to play better,” Hester said. “They didn’t do anything special. It’s us. We’ve just got to play better.”
In a 28-27 loss to the Oakland Raiders last week, the Ravens gave up a 47-yard punt return to Jalen Richard that Oakland turned into a touchdown, and Hester lost a fumble on a kickoff that he recovered. Orr said the special teams struggles in back-to-back games is something that must be addressed before Sunday’s road game against the New York Giants.
“It’s definitely concerning because we felt like this week in practice, we had a great week,” he said. “We were correcting some of our mistakes. All it takes is one bad play to wreck a game, and for that to happen on the special teams unit, it’s something we worked real hard on, especially with what happened to us last week.” who joined starter Jimmy Smith in covering Redskins receivers on the outside.
“All week, Coach told me that I was the next manup, so I was ready,” said Young, the first of the club’s five picks in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft. “Once my moment came, I just went out there and played with confidence. I just did what I know.”
Harbaugh took note of Young’s performance, which included three tackles. “Tavon has played well,” Harbaugh said. “I think Tavon’s had a really good season as a rookie. He’s played five good games for us, whether we put him inside or in the slot.” Lewis gets start at left tackle: Rookie Alex Lewis made his first start at left tackle since graduating from Nebraska for the injured Ronnie Stanley (foot), and acquitted himself well.
Also a fourth-round pick in the draft, Lewis did not allow a sack or commit a penalty Sunday, but said there was room for improvement.
“It’s like being on a bike again, but I’ve got to be consistent,” said Lewis, who started the first three games at left guard. “I’ve got to be more consistent out on the edge there, and we’ve got to keep Joe upright.”
John Urschel, who started at left guard, surrendered a sack to Washington defensive end Ziggy Hood in the second quarter but was not flagged for a penalty. End zone: Redskins inside linebacker Terence Garvin, a Baltimore native who played at Loyola Blakefield, made two tackles and shared a sack of Flacco in the third quarter with outside linebacker Trent Murphy. … In addition to Stanley and Wright, the Ravens deactivated rookie inside linebacker Kamalei Correa, rookie defensive tackle Willie Henry, safety Marqueston Huff, rookie outside linebacker Matthew Judon and rookie wide receiver Chris Moore. It marked the first time Correa and Moore have been healthy scratches in their careers. … Running back Justin Forsett, who was released by the Ravens on Tuesday, will meet and work out with the Detroit Lions today. Forsett, who averaged 3.2 yards per carry while starting in the first three games, could fortify a backfield that lost Ameer Abdullah (foot) for an extended time, and has been using Theo Riddick. … Washington deactivated cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland (strained tendon in ankle) and Dashaun Phillips (hamstring), rookie inside linebacker Su’a Cravens ( concussion), rookie wide receiver Josh Doctson (Achilles tendon), rookie defensive end Anthony Lanier, right tackle Vinston Painter and rookie quarterback Nate Sudfeld. … Baltimore native and 23-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps led the offense out of the tunnel before the game. Former Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis and wide receiver Derrick Mason also attended the game. … Defensive end Lawrence Guy, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight end Dennis Pitta represented the Ravens for the coin toss.