Special Teams Problems Offer Latest Moles To Whack In Win Over Bengals

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ special teams units are a whack-a-mole, choose-your-own-adventure novel sort of experience. Once they seem to get one thing under control, or even find that something is an asset, there’s another problem that arises elsewhere. This past game, we found some new issues in perhaps unexpected places.

I have no idea if this has even ever happened before, but Steelers long snapper Kameron Canaday, in his second season with the team after defeating rookie sixth-round pick Colin Holba last season, was flagged twice against the Cincinnati Bengals for holding penalties on punts.

While we have by no means been unfamiliar with seeing holding penalties on punts, it’s unusual for it to come from the long snapper. Especially with the Steelers reverting to having three players back behind the line of scrimmage for punter protection.

The first of the two Canaday holds came at the end of the Steelers’ opening drive. Jordan Berry punted 32 yards to the Bengals’ 12, where it was fair caught by Alex Erickson. Because of the hold, however, Cincinnati started from its own 22. Fortunately, they would be held to a three-and-out.

He was caught again at the end of the third quarter, this time with the Steelers punting from the Bengals’ 45-yard line. Similar to the last punt, Berry hit one 35 yards where it was fair caught at the 10 by Erickson, the penalty moving the line of scrimmage up to the 20.

As though that were not bad enough, it turned out it was even worse when Erickson was given room to return. As a kick returner, he closed the first half and opened the second half with long returns, the first of which helped to allow the Bengals to get a late touchdown before the half. The second-half drive mercifully stalled, but it’s a concerning sign for arguably the most consistent special teams unit.

With 1:07 remaining in the first half, Erickson returned a short Chris Boswell kick from the four-yard line 47 yards to the Steelers’ 49-yard line. Artie Burns was flagged for being in an illegal formation, which put the Bengals at the 44-yard line. They would proceed to march into the end zone on five plays.

To open the second half, Boswell kicked right to the goal line, which Erickson also returned, this time for 51 yards, again right to the Steelers’ 49-yard line. Yet even after a free play on third and six with an offside penalty, the Bengals still went three and out.

On the bright side, Boswell attempted and made two field goals, and was also two for two on extra point tries. He has missed three field goals and three extra points over the first five weeks, so whenever he gets a clean sheet, it’s notable.

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