Overall, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense was a very good unit in 2018. They were one of the highest-scoring teams in the NFL and posted one of the most efficient touchdown percentages in the red zone in decades in the league. They certainly put up the numbers in terms of individual skill position players as well.
Defensively, as we know, there were plenty of problems, with a large number of blown leads in the fourth quarter topping the list. But while they didn’t get the sort of turnovers they needed, they did well pressuring the quarterback, and they were successful in other areas.
When it comes to special teams, however, it was difficult to find much to like, so it’s not surprising to see the Steelers’ third phase of the game ranked 29th in the NFL recently by Pro Football Focus. The only teams who received a lower ranking were the Packers, the Bills, and the Browns.
There wasn’t anything that the Steelers did particularly well on special teams last year, after all. They were hoping to address the return game in an effective manner after acquiring wide receiver Ryan Switzer via trade, but at least for this season he hardly proved to be an upgrade. The coverage units were not significantly better, and even allowed a punt return touchdown, even if that should have been called back due to an illegal block in the back.
There were some positive moments, make no mistake. T.J. Watt blocked what would have been a game-winning field goal in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns in overtime. L.J. Fort blocked a kick in the season finale in what turned out to be a three-point game. Roosevelt Nix also blocked a punt, and Chris Boswell even threw a touchdown pass.
But the Steelers also had a kick blocked. They failed to secure a safety kick that resulted in their losing possession—for the second year in a row, incredibly. They allowed a punt return for a touchdown, as mentioned. They failed to have any long returns themselves.
And on top of all that, they led the league in special teams penalties, nearly averaging two per game. They went from having a Pro Bowl kicker to one who missed more kicks than anybody in the NFL, and they very nearly released him.
The Steelers’ special teams units under Danny Smith have had a lot of peaks and valleys, but there certainly seemed to be a lot of valleys this past season. My guess is that Smith will be safe, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he were to be released from his contract.