John Harbaugh on Denver: 'They don't have a weakness'
The Ravens special teams coverage units enjoyed a successful season last year but then unraveled against Denver in the AFC Divisional Round playoff game, as Broncos diminutive return man Trindon Holliday returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown.
As the Ravens prepare to face the Broncos in the season opener on Thursday night, Holliday figures to present a major challenge once again for the Ravens special teams units.
In that epic double-overtime playoff game, Holliday returned the Ravens first punt 90 yards for a touchdown, then took the second-half kickoff 104 yards for another score. He became the first player in NFL history with punt and kickoff return touchdowns in a playoff game.
Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said there was a breakdown in coverage on the punt return, but he also shouldered some of the blame himself.
"in pre-game warm-ups we had analyzed the wind to see which way we’re punting, like we always do," Rosburg explained. "And in the weather conditions, real frankly, the coach made a bad call there – that would be me. I thought that we’d be able to get it to that sideline and the ball started out right and ended left."
So as the Ravens pursuit angled toward the right boundary, the ball drifted back into the middle of the field and "there was just too much space," Rosburg said. "We didn’t adjust really well to the ball. There was too much space for that returner."
Ravens punter Sam Koch recalled that during pregame, "There wasn't much wind. We got out there that first punt and the wind kinda picked up. There was about a 10 mile an hour wind blowing right to left.
"Typically in those instances, we'd probably punt away, basically going with the wind," Koch explained. "Well, I got it up, tried to put too much height on it, and the wind was pushing it so the nose stayed up, which caused the ball to kind of curve back in. It didn't have the chance to turn over, and so that's why it brought it back down towards the middle of the field."
The Ravens problems with the 5-foot-5 Holliday continued on the opening kickoff of the second half. After fielding the ball 4 yards deep, Holliday made one cut, found a seam up the middle, slipped through a tackle attempt by Chykie Brown at the 35-yard line and was gone.
"We didn’t stay in front of him," Rosburg said. "He just took it north, which he’s done a number of times. So, that’s just another part of the coverage we’ve been working on."
Indeed, Rosburg has made stopping Holliday a point of emphasis this week. Lane integrity, good angles to the ball and eliminating open space are going to be critical.
“There is always special emphasis when you’re playing a returner of his talent level," Rosburg said. "He’s a guy that attacks the whole field, and everybody is going to be responsible in coverage this week for us to be successful. ... We are very mindful of his skills.”