It is difficult to be an avid sports fan and to no develop a pet peeve or two. One of the pet peeves that I hold while watching preseason football is the idea of teams with established kickers, particularly established kickers known for a big leg, routinely booting kickoffs out of the end zone.
It’s something that you know your kicker is capable of doing, and really isn’t even something that needs to be simulated in a game to find out. How far he can kick the ball, more or less, is how far he can kick the ball, with not a ton of variables, weather excepted.
What you can’t ever fully replicate on the practice field is your kick coverage. That is something that needs live game reps to be tested out, since in practice the unit tends to be broken down into parts rather than as a whole simply because it’s impractical to do so, and because it has the potential to be a dangerous play that you don’t want resulting in friendly fire.
So when a team such as the Jacksonville Jaguars with an established big-leg kicker in Josh Scobee, or the Minnesota Vikings with Blair Walsh, routinely send kickoffs through the back of the end zone, I struggle to understand the motivation. You don’t get to roll the touchback over into the regular season, so all you’re really doing is robbing yourself of getting a look at your coverage unit.
And you’re also robbing your opponents from getting a look at their return unit. Not that that is their concern, but it certainly has been an issue for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and in particular Dri Archer.
The Jaguars last game, for example, scored four times, meaning that, including the opening kickoff, they had five opportunities to run their kick coverage unit out onto the field. Every one of those five opportunities went for touchbacks, with four of them coming at Archer’s expense.
After one kick—perhaps it was the fourth one—that sailed out of the back of the end zone, Archer dismissively waved his hand back at the ball, recognizing the opportunities that he was losing out on.
In fact, through two games, he has only gotten the opportunity to return one kickoff thus far, which went for 34 yards. He has had only two opportunities to return a punt as well, with the first being muffed and the second being returned for four yards.
The lack of opportunities for returns provided by the Steelers’ opponents are once again making it a challenging proposition for them to effectively evaluate their return candidates, which was also an issue in the preseason last year.
With the Steelers hoping for Archer to establish himself at least as the team’s kick returner this season, it is disappointing, and a bit frustrating, to watch each opportunity to get a look in that role sail over his head. Not that there is anything that the team can do about it.