During the first couple of weeks of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked pretty solid, overall, on special teams. Since then? Not so good. They had some momentum-swinging moments go their way in the first two games, but those plays reversed course in the two games since, hurting them more than helping.
According to Pro Football Focus, this has ultimately landed the Steelers toward the bottom of the league in terms of their overall special teams value, ranking just 27th out of the 32 teams in the league. The only teams ranked below them are the Giants, Cardinals, Jaguars, Colts, and Chargers…and they do play the Jaguars this week. Two of their previous opponents are also ranked just above them.
Now, I have been making an effort to pay closer attention to special teams this year, instituting a weekly special teams report and focusing one film study a week on a player’s special teams performance, but even so, I don’t pay attention to the 31 other teams’ special teams units the way I do the Steelers’.
So for that reason, I couldn’t possibly begin to offer a coherent debate about whether or not the team is ranked fairly relative to the other 32 teams, because I don’t have sufficient knowledge to compare and contrast between what they have done and what others have done. All I can do is offer my own thoughts.
Each game almost has so far had a highlight or lowlight on special teams. In the season opener, it was a big blocked punt by Tyler Matakevich that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by Anthony Chickillo. A week later, Matakevich made a heads-up play when the Vikings ran a fake punt, throwing a pass that the linebacker was able to cover and defend.
But a week after that, the Steelers had a field goal attempt blocked that was returned for what should have been a touchdown, with Vance McDonald stripping the ball out at the goal line. An illegal batting penalty on Jordan Berry put the ball on the one-yard line, and the Bears ultimately got a field goal, completing a potential six-point swing in a game that went into overtime. Earlier in that game, Eli Rogers muffed a punt that Chicago recovered, eventually scoring a touchdown.
The only game that didn’t have a major turning point moment on special teams was Sunday’s against the Ravens, yet it still featured a missed field goal. And truthfully Berry’s punting hasn’t been very impressive this year.
Neither has the return game, either on kickoffs or punts, which is nothing atypical. The only units that have been at least average or approach above average have been the coverage units, and even those have faltered at times.