After successfully handcuffing Cleveland Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs, the Ravens get another test this Sunday when they visit Heinz Field for their annual showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Courtesy of a 31.7-yard average on kick returns, the Steelers rank second in the NFL in that department, trailing only the Seattle Seahawks.
"I think they've got guys in place that are very explosive, guys with a lot of home-run ability," cornerback Cary Williams said. "They've shown some good ability out there, some good talent. They're fast and quick. They're physical. You definitely know what time it is when you see Pittsburgh on the schedule. You know it's going to be relentlessly tough, you know it's going to be relentlessly physical, you're going to have a lot of tenacity in the game. It's going to be great."
Pittsburgh's return unit is paced by rookie Antonio Brown, who took a reverse handoff from Mewelde Moore and returned the opening kickoff 89 yards in the team'19-11 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 19. It marked the first kickoff return for a score since Allen Rossum went 98 yards against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 23, 2007.
The Ravens said they will be on alert for such trickery.
"When you play a game, you've got to expect anything," said linebacker Prescott Burgess, who ranks second on the team with three special-teams tackles. "That's what practice is for, for us to go over the things and make sure that the things that happened to other teams don't happen to us."
Special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Jerry Rosburg traces Pittsburgh's early success to the presence of first-year special teams coordinator Al Everest, who has overhauled the special teams unit with athletic, physical personnel.
"You can see that new coach Al Everest has done a really good job of installing his systems and doing it his way," Rosburg said. "They've been very effective thus far. I think it's both in the fusion of personnel and also Al's influence."
With opponents averaging 31.2 yards per kick return, the Ravens rank 30th in the league in kickoff coverage. But they limited Cribbs, who leads the NFL with eight career kick returns for touchdowns, to just a combined 47 yards on two returns, and kicker Billy Cundiff launched three more kickoffs that resulted in touchbacks.
Williams said the unit's approach this week hasn't changed from its mindset last week.
"We're going to go through the week the same," he said. "You want to minimize the big gains as much as possible. We've got a great game plan here. We're just going to go out there and try to execute it."