Special teams is not important. Roster spots for ‘special-teams players’ is a waste. Unless the special-teams units are struggling because they lack the sort of quality player that not only has the ability but the willingness to carry out that sort of grunt work to the requisite level of success.
Whenever we talk about the roster, there is a perennial argument in the comments sections about this very topic. The Pittsburgh Steelers are fools for keeping players who only contribute on special teams when they can be using that roster spot on some other player who has the potential to develop into a contributor in other areas later on down the line.
That is, of course, until the punt coverage unit starts giving up a bunch of long returns. Which is what we saw earlier this year with the Steelers missing a couple of their more important special-teams players, namely Shamarko Thomas—who has since been placed on injured reserve—and Darrius Heyward-Bey—who is back.
The Steelers may find themselves in a bind today depending how the injury situation shakes out on the back end of the depth chart. Already they go into the game knowing that they will be without one of their most important special-teams players in Anthony Chickillo, who if I’m not mistaken has logged the most snaps in that department on the team in 2016.
Two other important cogs in the special-teams machine finished the week of practice on the injury report, with Robert Golden and Vince Williams listed as questionable. Williams is in many ways the heart and soul of the coverage units, leading the way with his energy and impactful hits, so his absence would certainly be felt. Golden’s will as well, even if it is less noticeable to the naked eye.
The absence of all three core special-teams players would be a demonstrable blow and would put the coverage units especially on notice to keep on their toes and not let their guard slip, or risk giving up big plays, which is something that we have seen in games absent important special-teams contributors this year.
This might not be the most enticing topic to discuss on the eve of the Steelers’ first playoff game of the year, but it could be an important one all the same. I hope that proves not to be the case by the time the game is over.
The Dolphins do have two return touchdowns on the season, one via the punt and the other on a kickoff. Jakeem Grant has been their primary returner in both categories, but they also have explosive options on the punt (Jarvis Landry) and kick (Kenyan Drake) departments that the Steelers must be prepared for.