The Pittsburgh Steelers have certainly had their injury concerns on offense and defense this season, without question, and it’s a wonder that they have been able to stay afloat as well as they have in the midst of so many games missed from starters and key contributors in the early goings of the season.
One factor related to injuries that is largely often mistakenly glossed over, however, is the impact that some of these injuries can have on special teams, as the knee injury that is keeping Terence Garvin out of today’s game highlights.
And there’s no doubt that the Steelers have taken some blows to their special teams units this year.
We might as well begin with the kicking position, though that is not my primary focus. The fact that the team is on its fourth kicker, with the first two being lost due to injury, is bordering on the absurd, and has obviously affected their special teams units, likely even losing a game against the Ravens.
But there have been other major injuries within the special teams world, such as the one suffered by Ross Ventrone that ended up with him getting released. Ventrone was called up from the practice squad last year and he provided such an immediate impact on special teams that they were never able to send him back down, even when he got injured and missed two weeks.
The Steelers are currently down to three healthy safeties after Ventrone’s release, which was prompted by injury, and that fourth, injured safety, starter Will Allen, has also been a core special teams contributor for the length of the six years that he has spent in Pittsburgh. It was why he was brought here in the first place, and he is missing his second straight game, after missing almost all of the previous game.
Despite being a starting linebacker, Ryan Shazier has also been a key special teams contributor, particularly on kick coverage units, and having him down for the past four weeks may have contributed to opposing teams having a bit more success on returnable kickoffs. Jarvis Jones also being out in the same game last week resulted in the team’s worst starting field position allowed of the season.
Today, the unit will be getting those two linebackers back in the fold, but they will be playing without the likes of Allen, Ventrone, and especially Garvin, who is as deserving of the nod for special teams captain as anybody on the team, short of perhaps Robert Golden, who is, in fact, the captain of the special teams units.
By and large, the Steelers have done relatively well, slightly better than average, on special teams, particularly with respect to the coverage units, but that level of performance could erode quickly with a few key injuries to their valued contributors. It will be up to those who replace them—often without much practice—to pick up the slack.