I’m elated we’re talking about a Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory day. If we weren’t, I’m guessing all the attention would turn to a singular play, even if we all realize one play doesn’t make or break the outcome.
Once again, and it’s unbelievable I’m even typing this, the Steelers couldn’t figure out the rules of a kickoff. You know that super complicated concept of catching the ball.
For the third time in two years, Pittsburgh has made some sort of ugly gaffe on the return after a safety. It’s going to hurt but let’s watch it.
We’ll start with today. Bud Dupree records the safety putting the Steelers up 16-6 midway through the third quarter. Feels like the Steelers are about to cruise, right?
Then all Hell breaks loose.
On the safety kick, Roosevelt Nix – for reasons unknown to me – signals for a fair catch. Ryan Switzer, the closest return man to the ball, gets out of the way. Nix stops, lets the ball bounce, and then Switzer freezes. The Browns, actually, you know, understanding the rules, pounce on the ball – yup, it’s live – and take over. They punch it in the end zone after a million penalties to make it a 16-12 game (they missed the extra point because…Cleveland).
Steelers inexplicably fail to field a free kick and let the Browns have it. Browns could have run it in for a TD pic.twitter.com/yMyT6PqMeR
— Vikings Blogger (@firstandskol) October 28, 2018
The fact the ball hit the ground is bad enough. The fact Nix and Switzer didn’t communicate well is worse. But the fact none of the 11 players even tried to run after the ball is downright stupid. And there’s zero excuse for it.
This isn’t the first time it’s happened. As many pointed out on Twitter, almost the same thing happened against the Kansas City Chiefs last year. Safety, kick, and KC fell on the ball.
At least there were Steelers running after the ball this time. That’s how low we’ve set the bar.
Earlier this season, after the other safety Pittsburgh recorded, there were miscues. Here, Antonio Brown fields the ball (golf clap) but Stevan Ridley has no idea where to line up. The Steelers are flagged for illegal formation, negating an excellent return and field position. It ends up being about a 20 yard swing, a drive where Jordan Berry ended up punting.
In the 2016 Wild Card game, there was another kickoff gaffe. Not a safety return, it came late in the game with the Chiefs possibly attempting an onside kick, so it was a “specialty” return situation. Justin Gilbert’s brain short circuits, aimlessly running around, a negative two yard return that put Pittsburgh on their five and gave Kansas City the ball back.
Blame doesn’t fall on just one person or unit. It is, as is usually the case, a mixture between players and coaching. But I’m not super interested in debating who deserves more of it. It has to get corrected. And the fact these things have happened for three straight years, major return gaffes, does fall on Danny Smith. A coach who, yes, I’m an unabashed fan of, but have been quick to criticize too. Criticism here is obvious but warranted.
It’s remarkable the Steelers won three of those four games. But those are the kind of costly mistakes that will prevent this team from winning a Super Bowl. This chaos can never happen again. Or I’ll be wincing the next time this defense records a safety.