A good possession ends with a kick. Extra point, field goal or a punt.
Yes, a punt is a good thing. Just ask the Baltimore Ravens. They ranked fifth in net punting yards (39.9 per punt), and finished ninth in total return yards at 245.
Field position is key.
It's essential to being on the winning end of a Steelers-Ravens game, whether it's the preseason or the AFC Championship game. Ravens P Sam Koch punted very well in two meetings against Pittsburgh this season, and will be an instrumental part of Baltimore's success against the favored Steelers in their first playoff match-up since 2002.
Despite Ravens QB Joe Flacco's tendency to make a big throw when his team needs it, the Ravens need to win the field possession battle to win the game. Their biggest advantage over the Steelers is their advantage with Koch over Steelers P Mitch Berger.
Koch was huge in their first meeting, highlighted by a 61 yard beauty, but flanked by a 43.9 yard average on eight punts. This is a defensive game, but being stacked up at their 10-yard line when the crazed Steelers fans get rowdy will not be a successful situation for the visitors.
However, Koch has been up to that task all year. The Ravens have one of the better special teams units in the league, and Koch's ability to kick in the elements - game-time weather is supposed to be in the mid-teens with a 40 percent chance of snow - is a big reason why the Ravens are one game from the Super Bowl. Koch doesn't draw many fair catches, but was second in the NFL with 34 punts inside the 20 yard line. With that, the Ravens are able to position their defense to set up adventageous field position for their offense.
For example, in the Week 15 game at Baltimore, the Ravens led 6-3 in the fourth quarter. Koch lets loose on his best kick of the game, and the Ravens down it at the Steelers' 1-yard line. The Ravens defense fell on a Santonio Holmes fumble, and converted it into a field goal. The chain of events started with Koch's punt, and gave the Ravens a crucial six-point lead.
It took the late-game heroics of Roethlisberger for the Steelers to pull it out with a late touchdown. But Koch's punt before the Steelers final possession of the game was downed at the Steelers 8-yard line, forcing Roethlisberger to lead his team 92 yards in 12 plays for the game winner.
The Steelers changed up their special teams a bit in a 35-24 whipping of San Diego in the Divisional round. WR Santonio Holmes took a Mike Scifres punt 67 yards for the team's only return touchdown this year. No punter had been hotter than Scifres going into the playoffs, but he greatly out-kicked his coverage, and Holmes waltzed through a hash-to-hash hole in the center of the field. Koch kicks to the sidelines very well, and even with a fairly pedestrian 41.7 yard average in their second game against Pittsburgh, he put 4-of-7 punts inside the 20.
Since the Steelers can't expect the same amount of success in the run game against Baltimore that they did against San Diego, they can put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Steelers passing game, and force QB Ben Roethlisberger into testing FS Ed Reed - the Ravens haven't lost a game where Reed has an interception this year, and has two interceptions in four separate games over 2008.
Koch can set all of that up with a few strong punts. It'd be a stretch to predict there are more than 500 combined offensive yards, so it's likely this game will come down to whichever team has to travel the least amount of distance to a field goal, or to that rare touchdown seldom seen in a Steelers-Ravens game.