Special teams is an aspect of the game that we try to pay more attention to than most venues who cover the game in a similar fashion, outside, of course, of those select venues that actually specialize in that department. We try to shine the light on it because it is, frankly, the aspect of the game that is most frequently overlooked, and undervalued.
We just saw in the Super Bowl how much of a role it can play. an early missed extra point by the Philadelphia Eagles saw them chasing lost points throughout the game, resulting in them attempting two two-point conversions, both of which failed. The New England Patriots also missed an extra point and a field goal.
But their rookie kicker, Jake Elliott, drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, had a good season for the Super Bowl champions, and even connected on five kicks beyond 50 yards on the season.
It’s a popular theme to attack the Pittsburgh Steelers’ special teams unit as a whole. It’s true that some elements of it are better than others, with the return units, more often than not, being the groups that lag behind. But even those groups improved at the end of the season.
And for Pro Football Focus, it was enough for them to move up in the rankings. In fact, they have steadily inclined. At the quarter pole, the site ranked Pittsburgh 27th. At midseason, they were 20th, and then three quarters of the way through the year, 16th.
Now, they finished ranked 11th overall, which is not bad at all. Rick Gosselin would not quite agree, as his ranking was closer to PFF’s previous ranking at 16, but I do think it’s fair to weight the late-season improvement in their favor, as the return game in particular took a step forward.
PFF’s primary interest, however, was in the kicking game, which was the most clutch performance in the league. Third-year kicker Chris Boswell connected on all four of his late-game go-ahead field goal attempts, and three of them occurred with the clock expiring, while the fourth was still in the final minute of the game.
“The Steelers often left a little meat on the bone offensively this season”, the article read. “Luckily for them, Chris Boswell is about as good as it gets kicking field goals, making 35-of-38 attempts, including all four from 50 yards or more”. One of Boswell’s missed attempts was a blocked kick.
Pittsburgh’s special teams units were a roller coaster this year more so than I can remember, with about the only thing that was missing being, well, the worst thing that can happen, that being a return touchdown allowed.
I’ll run down the list at another time, but they did return one for themselves, while having another negated. They blocked or partially blocked three punts, blocked a kick, had two kicks blocked, stopped a fake punt, successfully completed a fake punt…they checked a lot of boxes this year, that’s for sure.