OWINGS MILLS – The fallout from David Reed losing two fumbles on kickoff returns during the Baltimore Ravens’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks has triggered a renewed search for a primary kickoff returner.
“I think we’re looking for our kick returner,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday, one day removed from Reed’s turnovers directly leading to a pair of Steve Hauschka field goals.
Reed also committed a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Harbaugh pointed out that starting cornerback Lardarius Webb is likely the top option, but he’s too valuable on defense to expose to that much contact.
“Probably Webb is our best guy if you look at it, but he’s a starting corner and he’s our punt returner,” Harbaugh said of Webb, who ran back a kickoff for a touchdown as a rookie. “You can’t put too much on any one guy’s plate. So, we’re looking for the best guy to do it.”
The Ravens’ other options on kickoff returns. include cornerback Chris Carr, who returned one kickoff for 20 yards, and wide receiver Torrey Smith, who returned a kickoff 24 yards, and rookie LaQuan Williams. Williams has averaged 21.8 yards on five kickoff returns.
Reed led the NFL in kickoff return average with a 29.3 average as a rookie last season when he set a franchise record with a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Houston Texans.
However, the former fifth-round draft pick from Utah has fumbled three times in the past two games.
“You can’t turn the ball over, that’s job one," Harbaugh said. "David knows that. That’s something he works on very hard. You can’t turn the ball over, especially in a kickoff return situation. That’s just not something we’re going to be able to deal with and expect to win football games.”
Reed is averaging 28.6 yards per kickoff return this season with a long return of 77 yards against the Tennessee Titans to rank second in the AFC.
He missed two games with a shoulder injury and was suspended for the season-opener for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy.
“It’s a little hump I’ve got to get over," Reed said. “It’s very frustrating, just got to bounce back. I let my teammates down. It was bad. I don’t feel good at all.”
According to Harbaugh, Reed also missed open lanes on returns against Seattle. Special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg was critical of Reed last week.
“The kickoff returns were actually probably the best blocked that we’ve had all year,” Harbaugh said. “And I didn’t know that last night, but after watching the tape, I thought we blocked those kickoff returns pretty well. So, that’s the thing.
“There are some encouraging things in there, even though the result couldn’t have been any worse. You fight through that, you don’t overreact. You definitely don’t panic, and you get better.”
The Ravens have had other problems on special teams this season.
They allowed a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to New York Jets running back Joe McKnight and an 82-yard punt return for a score to Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson.
“I think we’re young there,” Harbaugh said. “That’s not an excuse because you’ve got to be young there, you’ve got to train guys up. But there’s a lot of learning going on there right now. If you dig in and look at it very closely, we’re actually getting a lot better, but it’s not showing up in the results.”
Meanwhile, Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff has now missed 1 of 6 kicks from 50 yards and beyond after misfiring from 50 and 52 yards against the Seahawks. The 50-yarder could be attributed to long snapper Morgan Cox skidding his snap to holder Sam Koch, throwing off the timing of the operation.
Harbaugh pointed out that Cundiff connected on two 58-yard field goals prior to kickoff Sunday.
Going forward, the Ravens might be hesitant to kick longer field goals.
“It could, especially with the weather getting a little tougher,” Harbaugh said. “The operation has everything to do with it. It’s a team effort out there, the three guys in the operation and the protection. There were some things in there that made it a little tough on him. That’s part of it. That was disappointing.”
The Seahawks scored a touchdown following Cundiff’s miss.
“Those kind of long kicks are never easy,” Harbaugh said. “You really don’t want to give up that field position, which is a fair point.”
INJURY UPDATE: Although defensive lineman Arthur Jones suffered a concussion Sunday, the Ravens reported no injuries after the game.
“No injuries to report at this time,” Harbaugh said. “Thanks for asking.”
The Ravens aren’t required to file an injury report until Wednesday.
Harbaugh was noncommittal when asked if veteran wide receiver Lee Evans will play this week.
Evans has been sidelined since the second game of the season due to a left ankle injury and has caught only two passes for 45 yards since being acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills..
“I think we’ll see,” Harbaugh said. “That’s to be determined. Always hopeful, but we’ll have to see.”
DRAGGING: The Ravens’ defense was stout against the Seahawks despite several turnovers forcing sudden-change situations.
However, they allowed the Seahawks to run out the final 5 minutes and 52 seconds behind powerful running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries.
Was fatigue an issue?
The Seahawks controlled the football for 35 minutes and one second, running 70 offensive plays for 327 yards.
“You can’t be tired,” Harbaugh said. “You get stops. I think they made some third-down conversions, I think that’s what happened. We had two plays specifically in there where they made some really good plays. I mean Marshawn made a great jump cut. Give him credit. I thought Tarvaris Jackson made a nice throw into Golden Tate on a sideline route. That’s what kept the drive alive.”
QUICK HITS: Harbaugh had no interest in a public self-evaluation of his adjustments. “I’m not going to rate it,” he said. “You rate it. I’m not getting into ratings. What we’re getting into is the Cincinnati Bengals.” … Harbaugh is impressed with Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. “From what I have seen, he is really, really good,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, he has stepped up. He is playing winning football. He makes a lot of good decisions. He challenges you at every level, inside, outside and top to bottom. He challenges your coverages, makes very few mistakes, gets the ball out quick. I think he is running that offense really well.” … Harbaugh wouldn’t bite when asked about the upcoming Harbaugh Bowl against his brother, Jim Harbaugh, and the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving at M&T Bank Stadium. “This week is Cincinnati,” Harbaugh said. “Next week will be whoever we play next week, whenever we play them, but this week is Cincinnati. Absolutely. I couldn’t care less who we play next week. Honestly. You almost got me.”