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Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Justin Tucker's mechanical issue, special teams penalties

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker kicks the game-winning field goal to defeat the St. Louis Rams.
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker kicks the game-winning field goal to defeat the St. Louis Rams. (Rob Carr / Getty Images)

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has told kicker Justin Tucker, considered one of the league's best, that while he acknowledges all of the outside factors that go into kicking a field goal, Tucker's swing is at the heart of his issues this season.

Tucker has missed a career-high six field goals, including 5 of 7 from outside 50 yards, for a career-low field goal percentage of 78.6, which ranks him 30th among NFL kickers.

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He's his typical, accurate self from inside 50 yards, though, with just one miss from fewer than 49 yards out this season and just six misses from inside 50 yards in his career.

The long kicks, however, require a more sound swing than what Harbaugh sees from him.

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"To my eye, and I shared this with Justin, it's his swing," said Harbaugh, a former special teams coach. "When he swings the way he's supposed to, when he swings the way he's capable of, the fundamentally correct way to do it as he does in practice 99 times out of 100, he hits a straight ball and he hits a really good ball.

Tucker missed twice from 51 yards out on Sunday, but hit from 20, 25, and then 47 yards as the game expired to secure his 10th career game-winner. Tucker said Sunday that M&T Bank Stadium "is just a tough stadium to kick in."

"When he doesn't swing the right way for whatever reason – you'd have to ask him what happens," Harbaugh said. "There's a lot to it. There's the hold, there's the snap, the whole thing goes together. There's the wind, the footing.

"All those things are a factor, no question. But the swing mechanics are the main thing and it's not hard to see when the swing mechanics aren't what we would be looking for, what he'd be looking for. To my eye, that' s what happened in the game yesterday."

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Outside of the field-goal kicking, it's been a season of extremes for the special teams units. Another cluster of special teams penalties continued to mar what Harbaugh believes is a strong performance from that group, which recorded yet another block Sunday when defensive end Lawrence Guy got a hand on Greg Zuerlein's extra point in the third quarter.

The Ravens say outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith blocked a field-goal attempt against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which would give them four straight weeks with a special teams block.

But the recent penalties have overshadowed that good play to some degree.

"We have too many penalties, there's no question about that," Harbaugh said. "I'm not sitting up here saying we don't have [too many] penalties, especially on special teams. We're playing great on special teams, but the penalties are the one thing that I don't understand. We have smart players, guys who are veteran players taking overaggressive penalties that they shouldn't make."

With two special teams penalties accepted Sunday and three the week before, five of the their 12 special teams penalties have come since the bye week. Harbaugh said the late hit penalty on safety Terrence Brooks was "unacceptable, not smart, should not happen."

On one play in the third quarter, there were three penalties against Ravens specialists on one play.

"I saw [Rams punter Johnny Hekker] hit one of our guys dead in the back that they missed," Harbaugh said. "I saw a guy retaliate, which is not what you want to see, then I saw a free-for-all out there which was not unusual against the team we're playing."

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