The last time the Kansas City Chiefs were on national TV, they were given a jolt in the arm by Dexter McCluster’s 94-yard kick return for a touchdown that ended up being the difference in the Week 1 victory over the San Diego Chargers. It was in the days after that huge play that media and fans alike thought the Chiefs had finally fixed their return problems.
We have seen since that game that it takes much more than a couple of electric return men to patch all the holes. Clearly a midseason injury to McCluster didn’t help matters, but the blocking on special teams has been below average all season long. Turns out when the Ravens come to town those units won’t get much of a chance to redeem themselves.
Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch are two of the best in the league at keeping the ball out of the hands of kick returners. In fact, Cundiff has had as may touchboacks this season as any kicker in NFL history. Yes… ever.
To put his feat (pun intended) in perspective, Cundiff’s 40 touchbacks are 11 more than the second best (Sebastian Janikowski) and 17 (!) better than the two kickers tied for third best. Ryan Succop? He has prevented a return with a touchback just eight times.
The silver lining with Cundiff and the Ravens kick overage is that the few times he doesn’t get all of the ball there is the potential to get in a decent return. Baltimore has yet to give up a touchdown on a kickoff this season, but their 26 yard average on returns is second to last in the league.
Unfortunately for special teams coach Steve Hoffman and his returners McCluster and Arenas, things don’t get any easier when the Ravens are forced to punt.
You know all the accolades — and they are well deserved — showered upon Raiders punter Shane Lechler? Sam Koch of the Ravens is better. If you look at pure leg strength you would think I’m crazy, but when you look deeper into the stats it’s clear that Koch is the superior punter.
Koch and his 43.6 yard average will never catch Lechler’s 47 yards but even with a weaker leg he has a net average that is only 1.6 yards less than the Raiders punter. The biggest reason why Koch is better than Lechler is that you simply can’t get a big return, or really any sort of return, against the Ravens.
Even with Koch sending off four more punts than Lechler he has allowed 11 less returns, dropped 12 more inside the 20 and received 11 more fair catches. Better still, Koch has a return average of 8.1 yards compared to Lechler’s 8.8 while neither has allowed a touchdown this season. In his five seasons, Koch has punted the ball 402 times in the regular season and has only allowed one touchdown.
No one is saying that Hoffman, McCluster and Arenas are going to just sit on their hands and throw in the towel. But if they are going to turn things around in the return game, they are going to have to do it against one of the best duos in the league.