While the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense was certainly ugly against the Baltimore Ravens this week, there may have been one area of the team that was even uglier, and that would be the kick return unit—more specifically, Martavis Bryant’s attempts at returning kicks.
In five opportunities, the best he was able to muster was a return out to the 20-yard line, with a long return of 21 yards. His performance was bad—just bad—and there is good reason that he is not being used there this week. Presumably for good.
The first kick came 20 minutes into the game. Fielded at about the three, his fatal mistake here was his hesitation. He stopped and surveyed his options for about a full second before slowly attempting to take a wide arc around the right end. Once he saw that cut off, he virtually froze and was had dead to rights at the 12-yard line.
The next kick wasn’t until the opening salvo of the second half, but all the rest of his returns came in the third quarter. On the first attempt, he fielded the ball from three yards deep and decided to take it out. While he was able to get out to the edge, he ran out of room at the 18, and instead of riding the play out to the sideline, he tried to cut inside the last defender.
Just five minutes later, he got another try, and it ended up being his worst of the game. Despite initially lining up short of the goal line, when the kick came to his left, he backed up and decided to play it on a bounce. He should have fielded it cleanly. Instead, he had to scramble just to avoid getting tackled in the end zone.
Return number four bore some similarities to the second return, working his way out to the right edge. Only this time he wasn’t able to beat the furthest defender. If he had, he might have had a bit of room to get out to about the 30 or so.
And lastly, Justin Tucker hung a kick up deliberately short to make him run up and field it. The plan worked because Bryant muffed the catch, forced to just fall on the ball at the 14-yard line.
To put it simply, Bryant managed to do several of the things that a returner cannot afford to do, and that is why he is no longer a returner. He got a legitimate opportunity to take over the job, and he well and truly blew it. He gave the coaching staff no reason to believe that he can be trusted, and there is no greater asset in a returner than trustworthiness.