Special Teams Gets Back On The Special Side After Sunday’s Fake Punt

The season has been something of a roller coaster for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a number of areas, both on and off the field. They beat a supposedly good team, then lose to a supposedly bad team. They run the ball poorly, then well; poorly, then well. The defense steps up, then sits down.

No area of the team has seemingly been free of this Jekyll and Hyde act, and that includes Danny Smith’s special-teams unit, which was finally more Jekyll than Hyde again this week after something of a bad stretch in recent weeks. The pendulum for special-teams impact swung back in their favor, to be certain.

And perhaps it was prefaced in last week’s game. Against the Chiefs, the Steelers took not one, but two delay of game penalties setting up for a punt—neither of which they minded. They were hoping to draw the Chiefs offside. The second time they even motioned their wings and their upback into receiving positions flanked to the left and right.

They put those bluffs on tape, and this week they snapped the ball to the upback, Robert Golden, who was able to hit his right gunner, Darrius Heyward-Bey, down the field for a big 43-yard passing play that helped keep the momentum going in the Steelers’ direction.

It was, in fact, the second successful fake punt pass in Golden’s career, previously hitting Antwon Blake—formerly a gunner as well—for another explosive play a few years back. They ran a couple of ugly fake punts and kicks last year, with Landry Jones attempting a pass and Jordan Berry trying to scramble, so this was something of a breath of fresh air.

And a nice turn of events after recent gaffes in the special teams department. From the return team’s inability to cover a free kick following a safety a week ago, back to Eli Rogers’ muffed punt and the blocked field goal back in week three against the Bears, things have gotten a bit ugly.

And it didn’t start out that way, of course. On the first punt of the season, the Steelers scored seven points after Tyler Matakevich broke through the line and blocked the punt, with Anthony Chickillo ending up recovering it for the score.

A week later, against the Vikings, it was Matakevich again making the play when Minnesota attempted a fake punt in the second half. The linebacker picked up on the fact that he was lined up against a different player than they had been using, this time a tight end, keying him on to a possible fake, and he ended up defending the pass that was thrown.

I’m sure nobody is happier than Danny Smith about getting back into the positive side of the conversation about the Steelers’ special teams unit. They have certainly had their ups and downs this year—with higher ups and lower downs than usual, it seems, but the special teams coordinator can breathe easy at least for a week.

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