Before we jump into the next game, it’s time for one last look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory over the Vikings on Sunday, through the prism of the special teams report. Through two weeks, this phase of the game has been the strongest on the team.
And that even included bringing the opening kickoff out to the 26, though it was fielded just outside the end zone. I just can’t help but notice that there was a cutback lane available for Terrell Watson to his left that I think had the potential for six. A faster, shiftier returner, rather than a downhill runner, might have been able to take advantage.
Mike Hilton started the game as a gunner, but as the game wore on, they let Brian Allen take those plays. With Allen not likely to be active weekly, it will be interesting to see how they try to monitor the starting slot cornerback’s reps here.
The weakness in Jordan Berry’s game is hangtime consistency. His first punt didn’t even last three seconds in the air, but it took a friendly bounce out of bounds for a decent punt of 46 yards to Minnesota’s 26.
As with last week, the Steelers started the game with their starting cornerbacks as jammers, on the left side both Joe Haden and Hilton providing a vice. Eli Rogers unwisely did not call for a fair catch on the first punt return and put himself in jeopardy of losing the ball after being hit quickly, losing a yard.
The Steelers’ first aspiring two-point conversion attempt of the season was dashed because of timing, unable to run the play in time. reportedly, the play clock stopped at 20 seconds and they assume it would be reset.
For the second week in a row, Roosevelt Nix nearly got free to block a punt. He already has two blocked punts during the preseason in his career. Also of note is that Coty Sensabaugh replaced Haden as a jammer.
Despite dressing for the game, Daniel McCullers was not on the field goal blocking unit.
Berry’s second punt was under four seconds. On this one, they kicked Darrius Heyward-Bey inside with Allen the lone gunner up top. I already talked about this earlier in a film session for the rookie cornerback.
Allen kicked inside on the next punt, and the Vikings countered on the opposite side with vice jammers. Heyward-Bey gestured with his hands at the move as if to tell them, ‘bring it’. He brought it instead, running past them and inducing a fair catch, though it was a poor punt overall, just 36 yards to the Vikings’ 42.
Sensabaugh did little to slow down the gunner on a 54-yard punt near the end of the first half that forced Rogers to called for a fair catch.
On the final punt of the half, both Allen and Heyward-Bey won their gunner matchups and paired to induce a fair catch. That’s I believe three for Heyward-Bey through two games. Not a stat that anybody tracks, and why his contributions are underrated.
Nix was flagged for being offsides on the opening kick of the second half, but it was kind of borderline.
Tyler Matakevich got a tell on the fake punt because they changed the player who was lining up across from him, now a tight end in the game. He didn’t even try to block, just ran a route, so he knew something was up.
The snap and hold looked good on Chris Boswell’s 51-yard miss, but he was spared another try via penalty and connected from 46.
I don’t know what the Vikings saw on the following kickoff that made them think it would be a good idea to take it out from nine yards deep in the end zone. It was a 27-yard return…but only to the 18-yard line. Hilton provided a big hit at the sideline to force the returner out of bounds as the coverage funneled him in that direction.
JuJu Smith-Schuster and Watson were not on the same page when the former took a kick out of the end zone five yards deep, the latter anticipating a kneel. The rookie ended up running past his upback and right into the coverage, tackled at the 15. An obvious sign of the lack of reps either of these two have had in the role all summer.
The Vikings took another kickoff out from eight yards deep. The coverage did a really nice job of swapping lanes to muddle the protection and made the tackle at the 17-yard line.
Allen showed good awareness in locating the ball on a 33-yard punt that he was able to down at the one-yard line off a bounce.
Prior to that, Kameron Canaday was flagged for a false start, what they called an illegal snap, for squeezing the ball prior to the snap, which is why they passed up a field goal attempt for that punt.
Allen and Heyward-Bey did a nice job of wedging the left gunner on a punt return in the middle of the fourth quarter.