The Third Phase: Steelers Special Teams Stalwarts

By Alex Kozora

The Pittsburgh Steelers bye week provides the opportunity to take a much needed breath and review the team through its first 11 weeks.

We’ll take an in-depth look at the forgotten phase. The third one, special teams. Their snaps are rarely highlighted but still valuable. Five Steelers’ have played at least 170 snaps on special teams. Terence Garvin (216), Antwon Blake (212), Robert Golden (200), Will Johnson (186), Vince Williams (182), and Sean Spence (170).

Using Pro Football Reference’s play-by-play as a guide, we’ll break down who is responsible for each tackle on special teams throughout 2014.

One caveat regarding PRF’s stats. It appears in their play-by-play they only give full tackles. No half credit. It’s a little bit of a funky layout but was the easiest website to comb through the data the way I wanted to so we’ll roll with the punches.

And a final preface before we get into the numbers. Tackles aren’t the end-all. That’s why tape matters. Good special teams play can come without ever showing up on the stat sheet. Forcing a fair catch, sealing the edge on a punt, or a high-effort play to down a ball inside the five, are all better than a tackle. But from an empirical standpoint, we’re forced to look at tackles.


The Steelers have made 19 tackles on the punt coverage unit in 2014. The weekly breakdown followed by totals.

Week One – None

Week Two – Michael Palmer, Brad Wing

Week Three – Shamarko Thomas

Week Four – Robert Golden, Greg Warren,

Week Five – Will Allen, Terence Garvin, B.W. Webb

Week Six – Ross Ventrone (2)

Week Seven – Antwon Blake

Week Eight – Will Johnson

Week Nine – Will Allen, Terence Garvin, Vince Williams

Week Ten – Darrius Heyward-Bey, Vince Williams

Week Eleven – Vince Williams


3 – Vince Williams
2 – Will Allen, Terence Garvin, Ross Ventrone
1 – Antwon Blake, Robert Golden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Will Johnson, Michael Palmer, Shamarko Thomas, BW Webb, Greg Warren, Brad Wing


The Steelers have 29 tackles on kick coverage in 2014.

Week One – William Gay (2), Sean Spence (2)

Week Two – None

Week Three – Robert Golden, Sean Spence

Week Four – Antwon Blake, Terence Garvin

Week Five – Vince Williams (2), Will Allen

Week Six – None

Week Seven – Antwon Blake, Terence Garvin, Ross Ventrone

Week Eight – William Gay (2), Antwon Blake, Vince Williams

Week Nine – Terence Garvin (2), Robert Golden

Week Ten – Terence Garvin, Robert Golden

Week Eleven – Vince Williams (2), Terence Garvin, Will Johnson, B.W. Webb


6 – Terence Garvin
5 – Vince Williams
4 – William Gay, Robert Golden
3 – Antwon Blake, Sean Spence
1 – Will Johnson, Ross Ventrone, BW Webb

And the total for all special teams tackles.

8 – Terence Garvin, Vince Williams
5 – Robert Golden
4 – Antwon Blake, William Gay
3 – Will Allen, Sean Spence, Ross Ventrone
2 –  Will Johnson, B.W. Webb
1 – Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Palmer, Shamarko Thomas, Greg Warren, Brad Wing

Some final notes based off the above data.

– One-third of the special teams’ tackles have come from Vince Williams and Terence Garvin, 16 of 48. Couple of linebackers doing work. Williams brings an energy to the team while playing subpackage football the last few weeks (though that need is likely to end with Ryan Shazier’s impending return). Talk about an unsung hero of the club.

– Bouncing off that, 98 has six special teams tackles in his last four games. At least one in each week. Impressive.

– Garvin sits in similar company with five stops over the last three games. Combined, 11 of the duo’s 16 tackles have come over the last month.

– Despite still getting a run on both kick and punt coverage units over the entire season, even while starting at Mack linebacker, Sean Spence hasn’t registered a tackle since Week 3. And he doesn’t have a tackle on the punt coverage unit all season. Other websites that track assists do not credit him with any assists, either.

– Been impressed by B.W. Webb chalking up two tackles despite limited playing time. He’s played only 33 special teams snaps but has two tackles. And a lot of those snaps, according to my game notes, have come as the jammer on punt returns where there obviously isn’t an opportunity to record a tackle. There’s a guy taking advantage of the opportunity. The return of Thomas and Ventrone will bury the William & Mary product, however.

– Johnson and Heyward-Bey are two guys whose numbers I’d like to see improve. Johnson has played on both units throughout most, if not all, of the season, and has just two tackles. And it took him until Week 8 to record his first. Although Heyward-Bey has been used as an outside contain man at times, working mainly at R2, one tackle isn’t going to cut it. William Gay, functioning as R1 for the year, has four. No excuses. DHB’s speed allows him to be one of the first players down. Want to see more.

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