Film Room: Steelers Blocking Another Punt Is No Accident

We’ve spent plenty of time, rightfully so, on the Pittsburgh Steelers struggles in Sunday’s Divisional loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. But it wasn’t all terrible. The offense put up 42 points and special teams performed well. Today, we’re going to focus on the latter.

Back in November, I did a video on why the Steelers were going to block another punt this season. They ended up deflecting two; one in the finale against Cleveland and more importantly, on Sunday. Against Jacksonville, you can again thank Danny Smith for coming up with a fantastic scheme.

Right before Sunday’s game, we discussed how frequently the Jaguars run fake punts. But our conclusion was that if the Steelers play things “straight up” with their alignment, the Jags won’t run it. They only take advantage of obvious opportunities. That’s what Pittsburgh generally did, the smart and safe way to go about it.

But Smith wanted to be able to get pressure too. How do you mix the two? Take a page out of Dick LeBeau’s playbook with “safe pressure.”

Let’s get into the block. Steelers line up with eight on the line. It’s a balanced look, 4×4, which is important because as we showed last week, if you’re unbalanced, Jacksonville is willing to fake it. So the balanced look makes sure Jacksonville doesn’t try anything.

On the snap though, it becomes unbalanced. Tyler Matakevich loops into the B gap to the Jags’ right side (Steelers left), making this a 5×3. It overloads the Jags right side of the punt formation, only four blockers versus five rushers. The Jags pick up the interior part of it well, working inside out, really all they can do, but it leaves Robert Golden free.

From there, Golden does the rest. Rally to the punter, get his hands together, and deflect the punt. Doesn’t get all of it but most of it and the ball dies after 15 yards. I’m assuming this is set up to the Steelers’ left side because the punter is right-footed. You don’t need to cross his face to get to his kicking leg. Colin Holba’s snap isn’t the best either, creating another quarter-second of time.

Take a look at the whole thing.

Smith actually tried this on the Jags first punt but it didn’t work. Steelers weren’t lined up in time, the rush wasn’t tight enough, and though Golden was free, he was way too far away. I admire his effort to throw his hands up anyway.

I know Smith gets a lot of crap because people look at some of the kick return stats. And sure, part of that is merited. It’s a results-oriented business, after all. But special teams especially is all about the details, the nitty gritty, all the small stuff that defines a unit. And I’m being completely honest, I think Smith has done a consistently fantastic job of that. It’s no clearer than on the punt block unit, which has been tremendous throughout the year. One true block, two deflections, and a ton of other razor-thin chances.

That’s maximizing talent.

Should Danny Smith return?

No question.

Hell yes. 


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