First-year Pittsburgh Steelers punter Brad Wing had one of his best games of the season on Monday against the Houston Texans, averaging a net of nearly 44 yards on four punts, with three of them being downed, two inside the twenty, with one total return yard allowed.
But that had a lot to do with the special teams coverage provided but his gunners, Antwon Blake and Ross Ventrone, who also made plays on kick returns.
After beginning at their own 20 following a touchback, the Steelers were forced to punt eventually on their opening drive, but they were able to flip the field thanks to Wing’s 48-yard punt, and Blake getting down the field to chase the returner away.
The Texans used single jammers against the Steelers and Blake won his individual battle on the left side with a quick stutter step and sprint to the left. From there it was just a matter of getting down the field, which he did in a hurry, allowing the punt to be downed on the six-yard line.
The Texans tried a vice on Blake—and only Blake—on another Wing punt early in the second quarter, but it didn’t work. The outside jammer forced him out of bounds, but he used his elite speed to get down the sideline, and was there when the returner fielded the ball, wrestling him down at the 29-yard line with a strong tackle.
After getting on the board with a 35-yard touchdown, the momentum began to turn when the Texans returner muffed the ensuing kickoff. Ventrone was the first one down there, brushing one Texan aside while cutting inside a second to tackle the returner at the five-yard line.
Ventrone even got a block as a vice jammer on the Texans’ first punt of the second half, which allowed Antonio Brown to muster a short return.
Despite decent starting field position, however, the Steelers’ ensuing drive stalled at the Texans’ 41, and were forced to punt again.
They managed to down the ball at the seven-yard line, but the truth is that the returner made a mistake in waving it off. While Blake was closing in, the jammer blocked him to the ground late, while Ventrone was being held up on the other side. The ball could have been returned.
But Blake finished up a solid day this time by making a tackle on a kick return, spinning off a blocker to bring the returner down at the 14-yard line.
Ventrone added on more of his own late, making the tackle on a kick return at the 17-yard line. It’s going to be hard trying to send him back to the practice squad, assuming that is their plan, once the team starts to get healthy again.