I’m pretty sure that not even Danny Smith’s mother liked him as much as Alex Kozora does. That doesn’t hold as true for anybody else, though, so the Pittsburgh Steelers’ special teams play has been a fairly regular source of criticism—often deservedly, in my opinion.
The Steelers have gotten some ‘splash’ plays out of their special teams unit this year, but they’ve also had some turned against them as well, so there is a trade-off. Ultimately, I’m not sure if I would say they have achieved a net positive or negative in this aspect of the game.
But for whatever it might be worth to you, the people at Pro Football Focus believe that the team has improved over the course of the past four games in comparison to the first four. At the quarter pole, they ranked the Steelers 27th in the league in their special teams unit.
Yesterday, they published their midseason special teams rankings, and Pittsburgh has moved all the way up—to 20th. Still, moving up seven spots is nothing to sneeze at, even if it’s only tied for the eighth-biggest upward move.
The article points to positive contributions from the likes of Tyler Matakevich, Roosevelt Nix, Mike Hilton, and Coty Sensabaugh as the highlight of the Steelers’ special teams performance to date. Matakevich leads the team in their tracking with eight tackles, while Hilton has six.
“This has somewhat made up for the difficulty punter Jordan Berry (second-worst in net punting average) has had flipping the field so far”, they write, and I actually agree. I know that Alex has his own take on Berry’s punting and the context in which it serves the team’s ultimately goal on the punting unit, but the fact of the matter is that he is not doing anywhere near as well as he could be with the opportunities that he is given.
And the article is right. Of the 32 primary punters this season, Berry ranks 31st in net punting average, producing an average net on his punts of just 37.5, while the median is about four yards better than that. The only punter with a worse net average is—Brad Wing. And he had a punt blocked.
It’s not just Berry, of course, though I would say that he is one of the biggest issues on special teams, if not the biggest. Generally the gunners have played well. The jammers have underperformed, as have the returners in all capacities, and that most definitely includes Antonio Brown.
While the Steelers may have finally pulled off a fake, finally, after years of ugly failures, special teams is still not a strength. Their high water mark seems just to be making sure it’s not too much of a weakness, with the coverage units consistently being better than the return units.