As I noted in an article earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers have given tight end Xavier Grimble new roles on special teams, now playing on both the kick return and coverage units.
Tyler Matakevich missed a block on the opening kickoff, but JuJu Smith-Schuster was able to break the tackle of the player in question and got off a 26-yard return to the 28.
With Cameron Heyward sitting, L.T. Walton took his place on the field goal unit. Matt Feiler took Ramon Foster’s place, but Maurkice Pouncey had already not been on the unit. The rest of the starting line has been throughout the year.
Matakevich made up for the missed block with a tackle on the Steelers’ first kickoff, stopping the returner at the 22.
The first punt return of the game featured vice jammer pairs, with Darrius Heyward-Bey assisting Brian Allen to the left and Cameron Sutton with Artie Burns to the right. Eli Rogers tried too much to make something happen on the return and ended up walking out of bounds for a loss of three.
Burns did a nice job jamming on the next punt, but it was a short one that bounced forward at the 25, so no return.
Matakevich gets his third mention of the column after he blocked his second punt of the season. This one was only a partial, the ball hitting off his helmet, but the Browns had to deaden it at their own 28.
Since returning from his injury, Joe Haden has replaced Coty Sensabaugh on the field goal defense unit. I’m not sure why. He also opened the season as a jammer opposite Burns for unknown reasons, but that died quickly.
Chris Boswell has been great with field goals, but he did miss an extra point (with another blocked), and on Sunday, he also shanked a kickoff out of bounds for a penalty. I believe that was his second of the year, and he’s had a couple earlier in his career as well.
The missed block on the next kick return was Anthony Chickillo up the middle. Had that one hit, it looked like a decent runback for Fitzgerald Toussaint. Instead, he got to the 17.
Allen got buried by vice jammers on Brian Allen’s first punt late in the second. In spite of that, Heyward-Bey and Matakevich ended up chasing Jabrill Peppers out of bounds the other way for a loss of two.
Rogers’ 14-yard punt return later in the game made five 10-digit yardage returns in the past two games.
The Browns’ second-half opening kick return was very well-blocked for Peppers, who got out to the 32. Chickillo was the last block put in place.
Daniel McCullers got some reps on the kick blocking unit. On one, Sean Davis tried to stunt inside the right wing as Haden bent the corner. He got through but wasn’t close to the ball.
Sutton missed a tackle on a kick return by Peppers, but the returner had to cut back inside with Robert Golden nearly bringing him down.
Martavis Bryant was back on kick returns in the second half. He and Toussaint were not on the same page, with the former expecting the latter to try to peel outside rather than going up the middle, resulting in a short return.
Alex Kozora already spent time earlier breaking down Smith-Schuster’s kick return, so there’s no need to go into detail, but the key blocks were made by Roosevelt Nix, L.J. Fort, Toussaint, and Golden. Smith-Schuster also stiff-armed a guy and ran past or threw multiple defenders on his way down the field, looking back around half a dozen times, reminiscent of his 97-yard touchdown reception.
Heyward-Bey was taken off gunner duties for the first time all season, Allen moving to his side and the latter’s spot taken by J.J. Wilcox. Wilcox induced the fair catch, but on a short punt from Jordan Berry. He was flagged for running out of bounds on the next punt