Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers had a few too many penalties on special teams, their special teams units overall contributed positively to a winning effort, even if their kick return game was lacking.
There was, of course, Shaun Suisham’s three-for-three field goal performance, including the game-winner, and punter Brad Wing’s 43-yard plus average on his six punts. There was the fake punt that led to a 25-yard pass.
But perhaps most significant was the coverage on punts and kickoffs, which—admittedly aided by some poor decisions from the Cleveland Browns—frequently put the Steelers’ opponent in poor field position, or at least made the most out of a bad situation.
Twice in the first half, the Steelers coverage team was able to pin the Browns down within their own 20-yard line on kickoffs, and it was William Gay making the stop on both of those plays. On the first occasion, at the end of the first half following the Steelers’ first touchdown, Gay was able to beat Jim Leonhard by laying a shoulder into him to make the tackle on return man Travis Benjamin at the 19-yard line.
Midway through the second quarter, after the Steelers had taken a 24-3 lead, Suisham sent the kickoff about nine and a half yards deep into the end zone, but Benjamin, for some reason, decided to run the ball out.
By the time he even reached the goal line, there were already two Steelers players on the 10-yard line, with two more at the 16, all bearing down on him. Darrius Heyward-Bey flushed him out to the sideline, and Gay knocked him out of bounds at the nine.
Early in the third quarter, with the Steelers pinned deep in their own territory, Wing was punting from the 10-yard line, with the punt being fair caught at the 49-yard line. It wasn’t the most impressive distance-wise, but a 39-yard net, especially when pinned deep, is acceptable. The Browns were also flagged for holding, backing them up 10 more yards.
The Steelers’ next possession ended in disaster after a promising start, and Wing had to punt from the 44-yard line on fourth and 16. Thanks to pressure from Shamarko Thomas as the right gunner, the punt was fair caught at the 18-yard line.
Midway through the fourth quarter, punting at midfield, Wing’s penultimate boot was fair caught at the 12-yard line. This is another example of an assist from the Browns, as it certainly appeared that the returner had room to run. Terence Garvin was closest to him as he fielded the ball, and he was about eight or nine yards away, with the right sideline open. And, of course, the Browns were also penalized.