The Denver Broncos had an ugly go of it on special teams last night, which certainly played a role in allowing the New England Patriots to keep pace with the Pittsburgh Steelers at 7-2 as the only teams in the AFC with fewer than three losses.
But, clearly, the Broncos are not the only team with issues on special teams. The Steelers are one of them, and we have seen a number of issues crop up time and time again. That includes yesterday’s victory over the Colts, even if it featured the best game of the year for punter Jordan Berry, who had been struggling.
And at some point, the Steelers are either going to have to address these role, or simply endure further below-the-line play. I can’t say that it will ‘eventually’ cost them a game, because this below-the-line performance already cost them one in Chicago.
That game saw a field goal blocked due to the poor play of the left wing, in that instance Xavier Grimble, who with the return of Stephon Tuitt has been replaced once again. But Jesse James has been a consistent problem in his role at right wing on the unit all season, as both I and Alex Kozora have talked about.
While it looks like it was the interior pressure that ultimately blocked Chris Boswell’s extra point attempt, the edge rusher that James allowed around him nearly did himself, and these instances have been too frequent. If I were Danny Smith, I would replace him with Vance McDonald here, or even Grimble, in spite of the fact that he allowed one kick to be blocked.
Another role I would like to see addressed is punt returner. I don’t think anybody could fairly argue that Antonio Brown has been a difference-maker in this role during the last five games. I don’t even think he has been good.
Aside from the fact that he has already muffed a punt, there are too many returnable punts that he fair catches, and too many others that he should fair catch that he instead lets bounce for more unfavorable field position. Even if Eli Rogers would be at best a lateral move, there is no reason to expose Brown to this role if he isn’t helping.
Yet another role I’m struggling to find reasonable is the fact that Smith has been again using Joe Haden as a gunner. Not only is he not very good doing it—having to the best of my knowledge never done it before—he is too important to expose in this role.
He allowed the first punt of the game to be fair caught, and was flagged for a penalty on the second one. More perplexing is the fact that Coty Sensabaugh, the primary left jammer, had been perfectly serviceable in this role previously. With Haden injured, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian Allen gets some playing time.
I would also like to see Allen used as a gunner as well. He is faster than J.J. Wilcox and stronger than Mike Hilton. We saw Hilton get stoned on a vice jam on the Steelers’ first punt on the game, which contributed to a 17-yard punt.
These are some of the biggest issues on special teams I’ve seen in recent weeks, and throughout the season, and I’ve offered my suggestions to address the issues. Likely little would happen with a short week, and frankly, nothing is probably going to happen anyway. I’m just screaming into the void. But at least I got to write the phrase “screaming into the void”, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.