When special teams captain Brad Kassell speaks of Baltimore, two things always come to mind.
"Defense and special teams," Kassell said Friday. "Ever since I've played, that's what Baltimore's been. We've got our work cut out for us."
On ESPN Monday Night Football's kickoff night this past week, the Baltimore Ravens validated their reputation of special teams dominance despite losing by a touchdown to the Cincinnati Bengals. The visiting Ravens scored 14 of their 20 points via special teams play, including a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown by safety Ed Reed.
"Their core special teams guys are good. Obviously we all know that Ed Reed is a big-time threat," said Kassell, who recorded his only interception and touchdown of his career against the Ravens in 2005 as a member of the Titans. "You've seen the guy do it over and over. He's just an athlete and he's one of the guys you've got to stop."
Kassell pointed out that Reed's returning ability isn't the only thing the Jets coverage should be concerned with come Sunday afternoon.
"I'm not even as worried of him returning as [I am of him] rushing punts," said the six-year veteran about Reed, who has four career blocked punts. "Ever since he's been in the league, he's been the premier punt-block guy."
Another menacing figure Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff will plan to contain this weekend is rookie Yamon Figurs, fresh out of Kansas State. Figurs is listed atop the Ravens depth chart for both kickoff and punt returns now that fourth-year veteran B.J. Sams has been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.
With Sams shelved for the season, Westhoff and the Jets are dodging an experienced specialist with a 22.9-yard average on 138 kickoff returns and a 10.9 average on 121 punt returns in just over three years.
Though he didn't account for any stats last week, Figurs has shown a lot of spark thus far. At February's combine, he clocked a 4.29 in the 40-yard dash — fastest among all prospects entering the draft. In the preseason, Figurs averaged 31.6 yards per kickoff return, including a 52-yard return against Philadelphia in his first game as a pro.
"Figurs is a good athlete even though we haven't seen much of him," Kassell explained of the Ravens' third-round rookie. "Obviously they've got a lot of confidence in him. He's a good return man."
It's not as if the Jets are going into this game without having competed against a powerful special teams group. In the home opener, Westhoff's unit gave up a historic 108-yard kickoff return to the Patriots' Ellis Hobbs to open the second half.
"Mike had a great kick to the back of the end zone," recalled Kassell. "The sad thing is that they didn't really block us up too well. We just missed some tackles and got out of position a little bit and they took it to the house on us."
The return not only tied an NFL record for longest play of any kind, it swung momentum to the New England sideline. Momentum is something Kassell and the Green & White special teams unit hope to maintain this weekend in a loud M&T Bank Stadium.
"Obviously it's embarrassing," he said. "It was a 14-7 game when we kicked it off and we screwed it up, 21-7, before our offense even got a chance to get back out there."
"The worst thing you can do is freak out," Kassell added in regard to bouncing back this week. "Like I said, we were all in the right position. We just have to make the plays. I think we'll get over that hump and play like we know how we can play.
"It's the difference between knowing how to play and actually producing. We have to get out there and produce."