Week One is just a few days away. And most teams – and players – have goals in mind. Numbers to hit in order to have a successful season. That’s what I wanted to do over the next couple days for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense, defense, and special teams. The big goals each unit and the players who make it up should hit in order to help this team win the AFC north and a Super Bowl.
Let’s wrap things up with special teams.
Team Goals (Special Teams)
– Finish In Top Half Of Fewest Penalties
Here’s where the Steelers rank in special teams penalties since 2015. Higher the rank, the better.
Fallen off the cliff since 2015. So let’s get back there. Want this unit to clean up the penalties and get into the top half of the league for the first time in years. That’s still a low bar but one they gotta hit.
– Have (at least) 2nd Best KR average Under Danny Smith
That number would be 22.5, done in Smith’s first year on the job. The best average ever under him is 24.2 set in 2015 but for a unit that’s struggled so much, I’m keeping things a little more realistic.
The kick return game has been abysmal the last two years, hovering right around 19 yards per return, and ranking among the league’s worst. Hopefully the continuity naturally improves this team but they must block better, too.
– Two Blocked Punts, One Blocked Field Goal
One of special team’s strongest units, this group is always good for getting after a punt or kick. These are game-changing plays and an underrated successful area of the Steelers’ special teams. The scheme and tape study makes them effective to get someone free or take advantage of a plus matchup. Hope it happens again.
– Cut PR Average Allowed In Half
The number is a bit dubious because of the sample size but the Steelers finished worst in the league allowing 14.4 yards per punt return. Highlighted by Dez King’s 73 yard runback in the Chargers’ comeback victory. There are caveats to that ugly number, King’s return tainted by two missed penalties and LS Kameron Canaday suffering a knee injury, effectively leaving the Steelers with seven men to cover, but those are all excuses. The unit needs to play better.
Get the number down to around 7.2 and you’re almost guaranteed to finish in the top ten and not allowed any long returns during the year.
– Starting Field Position Increased By Three Yards
No team had worse starting field position last year then the Pittsburgh Steelers, who on average, began drives at their own 26. That number is dependent on a lot of factors, the defense’s lack of turnovers played a role, no doubt, but I’ll put the onus on special teams to create the big plays here. Get out past the 25 yard line on kicks is a good start.
Increasing by three yards from the 26 to the 29 should lock them into being in the top half of the league and around the top 10. In 2017, the Steelers started at the 29.3 line, 11th best in football.
Individual Goals (Special Teams)
– Chris Boswell: Convert 85%+ Of Your Field Goals
In the study we did during the offseason, we showed it is possible for kickers to bounce back from terrible seasons. In some cases, they returned with a vengeance. Five of the 17 kickers in our study bumped their average by at least 20% after their “let’s not talk about it” year prior.
– Ryan Switzer: Kick Return Of 50+ Yards, Punt Return Of 25+ Yards
Switzer has been a strong return man throughout his career, college and his rookie season with Dallas. While he was reliable and trustworthy in 2018, he lacked splash. Blame some of that on coming over to the team so late in the process. But regardless, I’m looking for some dynamic plays. Last year, his longest kick return was just 35 yards while his longest punt went only 23.
– Diontae Johnson: No Muffed/Fumbled Returns
Johnson isn’t going to begin the year as a return man. And he likely won’t unless there’s an injury to Switz. But he’s just one play away from potentially being the guy on both kicks and punts, a big responsibility for a rookie. If his name is call on, I’m not looking for him to light the world on fire. Just take care of the football. He’s had issues with ball security in college and in the preseason.
Jordan Berry: 42+ Yard Net
Danny Smith talked about elite net yardage of 40+ yards and we wrote why that’s wrong. Instead, shoot for 42+ yards. That would place Berry in the top eight last year whereas 40 yards would rank just 16th. In 2018, Berry finished at 38.8, a paltry 27th place.
This is a big jump, I know, but where the goals need to be set. If the coverage unit gets better, it’s hard to have a strong net when your coverage unit ranks worst in football, it is possible.