I brought you yesterday the first in a weekly installment of special teams reports, designed to bring to attention the fact that many of the routines contributions on special teams are not recognized with any statistics that are tracked at all, let alone conventional statistics.
I don’t know if this will be a weekly thing, but today I wanted to highlight some of those contributions that often go unobserved, and I figured that one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most valuable special teams players, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, would be a good place to start.
Everybody’s favorite wide receiver logged 17 snaps on special teams on Sunday, with was among the most on the team and represented 68 percent of the Steelers’ total snaps on special teams for the day, including the opening kickoff.
It is surely not the most exciting play of the game, when you consider the fact that it ended in a touchback, but I think it’s a good starting point in discussing one of Heyward-Bey’s primary roles. He is always used at the end of the right side of the coverage on kickoffs, and essentially his job is to speed down the field and help funnel the return into the heart of the coverage—as you’ll see in a bit. For now, just notice how quickly he gets down the field relative to everybody else.
Later in the quarter, on what I believe was the Steelers’ first punt of the game, we see Heyward-Bey in one of his other major roles, a gunner on the punt coverage unit. Here he was able to take advantage of the near vice jammer nudging him out of bounds to race past both of them with his still-elite speed. He likely would have been in position to induce a fair catch had the punt been inbounds.
On a later punt, we see what happens when only one gunner gets the job done. Mike Hilton got stuck way upfield, so all Heyward-Bey could do on this punt with poor hangtime was funnel the returner to the opposite side of the field, where he was run out of bounds.
He did manage one special teams tackle, and that came after a 25-yard return. You can see the team using him in middle coverage here, but most importantly, watch him track the path of the returner through a crowd of jammers.
Finally, notice his contributions on this kickoff tackle that left the Browns on the 11-yard line. With Heyward-Bey quickly getting in position to lock down the nearside perimeter, the returner and his blockers were forced into the teeth of the coverage. No one player makes a special teams tackle. It’s all about lane discipline and cohesion.
The season opener did not mark the most exciting special teams performance once you get past the blocked punt that started off the game, admittedly, but I think this at least begins to show what a player like Heyward-Bey brings to the table on a weekly basis. He also induced a fair catch.