The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly have a few issues to fix in all three phases ahead of their Week 14 home game against the New England Patriots and one of them revolves around their kickoff returns.
During the team’s Sunday night home win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers returned six kickoffs for a total of 78 yards, or an average of 13 yards per opportunity. Five of those were returned by wide receiver Martavis Bryant and one of those almost resulted in a safety.
After the game was over, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the teams kickoff return phase and that being an obvious issue for the team Sunday night against the Ravens.
“I don’t know that the kick return game was an issue, the fielding of the ball was an issue,” Tomlin said during his post game press conference. “We’ll get back in the lab and work on that.”
While Bryant has provided a few sparks on kickoff returns since beginning to work in that role a few weeks ago, he’s been far from consistent when it comes to him fielding the football cleanly. Additionally, he’s averaged just 16.8 yards per return on his nine total opportunities. Bryant is, however, responsible for the team’s longest kickoff return of the season and had another one that he took 96-yards for a touchdown in Week 13 against the Cincinnati Bengals negated by a holding call.
With rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster set to return this coming week from his one-game suspension, it will be interesting to see if he and Bryant are allowed to be the team’s two deep returners on kickoffs against the Patriots. Smith-Schuster, however, hasn’t exactly been overly effective this season when he’s had his chances as he’s averaged just 13.8 yards per return on five total opportunities.
As a team, the Steelers are averaging 16.9 yards per kickoff return this season.