It’s time for your weekly special teams update. The first thing that I want to note is that the Pittsburgh Steelers are still utilizing Mike Hilton as one of their two primary gunners despite winning the starting slot cornerback job. He may have to stay there if the team is thinking about sitting Darrius Heyward-Bey in favor of Justin Hunter.
Speaking of Heyward-Bey, he was dominant as a gunner on Sunday, inducing a high volume of fair catches. I’ll have a full film room look at his impact in that role tomorrow though, so I won’t go into too much detail here.
It would seem that the Steelers have now for the most part taken Joe Haden off special teams after beginning the season with him as a primary jammer. That job has now gone to Coty Sensabaugh, who saw 11 snaps to Haden’s four.
There’s not a lot to say about Eli Rogers’ muffed punt. He just…muffed it. He tried to get under it, but he didn’t put his arms out far enough to receive it, so it bounced off his fingers, and right into the arms of a Bears player. Heads up for him, though, as he did quickly regather himself and make the tackle.
I swear, one of these games Artie Burns is going to block a kick. He goes all out on virtually every rep on the left end of the field goal blocking unit. He got close—and did a face plant—on the kick that the Bears missed.
On the kick that Terrell Watson took out of the end zone, JuJu Smith-Schuster should be credited with a nice lead block. Roosevelt Nix also lit up a guy away from the play, because of course he did. He also, for the third time already this season, came close to blocking a punt up the middle. He’s done that twice during preseason play.
On the Steelers’ second punt, J.J. Wilcox replaced Hilton opposite Heyward-Bey at gunner. I would figure he would start at gunner if Heyward-Bey is inactive. That’s two induced fair catches by Heyward-Bey so far during my play-through as I write this, by the way.
Burns had a pretty solid rep as a jammer on the Bears’ punt early in the second quarter.
The Steelers allowed a lane to open up on one kick return, perhaps because they were trying to have player swap coverage lanes. Still, the returner only got out to the 25.
After returning a kick from two yards deep, Watson decided to take a knee on one fielded virtually on the goal line.
The blocked field goal has already been examined, and as I mentioned, it is perhaps due to the Bears shifting the focus of the hot rusher from the left side of their unit to the right. Most teams send the hot rusher off the left (offensive right) side. They changed it up here and Xavier Grimble wasn’t able to get a good enough punch to push him wide.
Sensabaugh did a nice job as a trail player on the opening kickoff of the second half, forcing the return back inside as the returner tried to break it wide, and he ultimately made the tackle at the 22.
Rogers’ decision to try to play a punt off a hop was ill-advised at best. All he did was expose himself to fumbling. Burns was not happy about it, based on his reaction on the end zone tape.
The punt returner on the Steelers’ next punt did a really nice job of selling the fake field. Heyward-Bey possibly got down the field in time to try to down the punt, which landed at about the two before bouncing into the end zone, but he had to stay true to the returner, who did not signal for a fair catch, moving away from where the punt was actually travelling.
The lone punt the Bears were allowed to return—which was called back because of a hold, was initially returned for 28 yards, but that shouldn’t have happened. L.J. Fort failed to contain the perimeter there and he should have been stopped after about a yard or two.