It may not always be talked about frequently unless it really forces itself into the conversation, but special teams remains a big part of the game of football, in spite of what the rules tweaks over the years might have planned for its long-term future.
The punting game in particular proved to be an important part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory over the Jets on Sunday, and that goes for both the return and coverage units, both of which proved to be an asset in helping the home team stay ahead in the battle for field position.
Of particular note was the fact that second-year punter Jordan Berry punted three times for a net average of 46.3 yards, with none of the punts being returned, and all of them landing, being downed or fair caught, inside the 20-yard line. His long punt of the day was 52, but that was largely because he didn’t have much room to operate in order to avoid a touchback.
The Steelers, on the other hand, were the beneficiary of a touchback for the second straight week, and Antonio Brown put together two quality punt returns on the day to help set up the offense with good field position.
Early in the third quarter, after a 43-yard punt from Berry pinned the Jets on their own 13-yard line, they ended up back on the 12-yard line following a third-down sack. New York punted 52 yards from there to the Steelers’ 36-yard line, but Brown was able to field it with room to run.
In contrast to his second-half returns last week, during which he just fair caught the ball despite plenty of room to operate when the score was more or less already determined to come out in the Steelers’ favor, Brown was off to the races, returning this one 33 yards to the Jets’ 31-yard line. It initially looked like he would break it, but a Jets coverage player did a nice job of freeing himself from a downfield block to make the tackle on an unsuspecting Brown.
The offense gained just two yards on the subsequent drive, but it was enough to set up Chris Boswell for a 47-yard field goal, which at the time gave the Steelers a 17-13 lead. This time, Berry did not try to run with the ball, after the Steelers attempted a fake punt earlier in the game.
On New York’s next drive, they were able to reach their own 34-yard line and got off a 50-yard punt with the hopes of flipping the field position, but Brown returned the ball from his own 16 to the 34 after an 18-yard return.
The offense subsequently went three and out, gaining just one yard, but the field position gained from the return allowed Berry to boot one 52 yards, where the coverage unit was able to induce a fair catch at the 13-yard line. The Jets had poor field position all through the second half, in part due to the punting game, and that was a contributing factor in them being held off the scoreboard over the span of the final two quarters.