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The Ravens recipe for success during their Super Bowl winning season is well documented: Run the football, stop the run, control the clock, play great defense, protect the football, force turnovers and win the battle for field position.
It wasn’t rocket science and it still isn’t. Yet duplicating the success of the 2000 campaign has been anything but simple.
In 2001 the Ravens lost Jamal Lewis and right tackle Leon Searcy. As a result, running the football was no walk in the park. They relied on the middle aged legs of Terry Allen and those of the unaccomplished Jason Brookins both running behind a patchwork offensive line whose only returning starters were Jonathan Ogden and Edwin Mulitalo.
In 2002, the Ravens decided to rebuild and purge the roster of cap hogs and in 2003 the Ravens never seemed to regularly win the turnover battle the way they had in 2000 finishing the season only plus 3 in turnover differential.
In 2004 the Ravens were ranked 19th in time of possession and in 2005, they couldn’t run the football and they were only better than three other teams in the league in turnover differential (-10). Plus they were ranked 24th in the league in net punting average while only Green Bay had fewer punts inside the 20 than the Ravens.
This year a seemingly revitalized Jamal Lewis along with the steady Mike Anderson and the surprisingly productive Musa Smith look to capably address the Ravens ground attack. Steve McNair is an accomplished veteran who understands how to work the clock, how to direct a balanced attack and how to protect the football.
The Ravens finished fifth in the NFL in overall defense in 2005 and with the return to health of Pro Bowlers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed as well as Dan Cody to go with the additions of Haloti Ngata and Trevor Pryce, there’s little reason to believe that the team can’t at least duplicate 2005’s performance. Only one team among the top 6 defenses in 2005 didn’t go to the playoffs – the Baltimore Ravens. With the return of some playmakers and the addition of others, the Ravens should improve upon the 26 turnovers from a year ago that ranked them in the lower third of the league and ahead of only eight other teams.
All of these developments suggest that the 2000 formula could be implemented again in 2006.
There is however won glaring problem that sticks out like a sore thumb when comparing the 2000 season to the 2006 – the punter.
The Ravens let Dave Zastudil go on to Cleveland where the Browns and Phil Savage are happily overpaying the Ohio native. Zastudil in 2005 had a net punting average of 35.7 yards. That compares favorably against Kyle Richardson’s 2000 season of 33.9 yards.
But here’s the rub. Zastudil killed only 11 punts all year inside the 20. Richardson pinned opponents inside the twenty 35 times in 2000. That averages out to an additional 1 ½ possessions per game started inside the 20. That longer field does many things for the Ravens defense. It allows them to dictate the game, it limits what opposing offenses can do and it provides more opportunities for turnovers — turnovers that convert immediately or subsequently into points.
Richardson embraced the winning formula.
Zastudil either couldn’t or wouldn’t.
Today the Ravens have two punters on their roster, neither of which was even remotely impressive against the Giants. Together they combined for a net punting average of 23.4 yards. No, that’s not a typo.
Obviously that won’t get it done.
Leo Araguz is a journeyman punter who has a grand total of 42 punts over the last 6 years – total! Sam Koch has a strong but inconsistent leg and he’s hardly had a stellar amateur career.
Are the Ravens ready to risk that tried and true formula 2000 with these two punters?
The team is hoping that Koch straightens things out and that he can also assume the kickoff duties in order to save a roster spot for a positional player. And that spot will be valuable particularly if the club decides to keep the very one-dimensional Clarence Moore on the 2006 roster.
So what are the Ravens choices at this point?
Well they can sit back and let the preseason play itself out and reassess the situation at the end of the month and hope that a more attractive veteran option is let go by another team. Or they could make a move to bring in one of two punters who are already in town and let them take a shot at the position.
One of those players is Towson University graduate Sean Landeta. The other is a Super Bowl hero – the aforementioned Kyle Richardson.
The Ravens have too many things moving in a positive direction at the moment to allow a bad punter to undermine their collective efforts and be the fly in the ointment of a winning formula. Granted it was just a preseason game but that Sam Koch punt last Friday cost the Ravens a win.
Why risk it all to save a few hundred thousand in play money?
So when the lights go on tonight and you are looking at various positional battles, pay close attention to who’s punting. You might also want to watch the Eagles’ punter Dirk Johnson. Johnson averaged 45.2 yards on 6 punts last week against Cleveland and his net average was 40.3 yards. And yes, this is the same Dirk Johnson that the Ravens had considered signing as a restricted free agent just a few months ago.
If Araguz’ and Koch’s struggles continue the Ravens better pick up the phone and get busy finding a replacement before all the good they’ve done this offseason is punted away.