After Sunday’s tie against the Lions, it was clear the special teams were a sore spot. Ray-Ray McCloud had mixed results as a punt returner. Chris Boswell had an uncharacteristic missed extra point. The punt coverage gave up a 48-yard return to the Lions punt returner.
Coach Mike Tomlin addressed the special teams issue Tuesday in his weekly press conference.
“We need more splash in our special teams. They punted 10 or 11 times in game, many of which were open grass scenarios,” Tomlin said via the team’s official YouTube channel. “And if you get that number of opportunities in that phase of the game, you’d like to think that you’re going to have a significant player in that phase, either a blocked punt or a significant return.”
The Lions indeed punted ten times to the Steelers. McCloud had six punt returns on just 54 yards, an average of nine yards per return. As for the kick return game, he had two returns for 35 yards.
McCloud had a costly fumble against the Bears in Week 9, so he’s had back-to-back inconsistent weeks. With that, Tomlin will stick with him as a returner. For one, the Steelers really don’t have a better option. Finding a good returner is much harder than one would think.
Secondly, McCloud still ranks seventh in the NFL in yards per return (8.82) despite his struggles as of late. The longest return on the season is just 19 yards, an issue Tomlin highlighted in the press conference. With the second most returns in the league, Tomlin wants more big returns.
“We got some detailed work to do in that phase of the game to have more splash and to collectively affect the outcome in our games in the ways in which we desire. We like the core group of guys that are developing the type of cohesion that’s required to have splash in that phase.”
As expected, it’s clear the Steelers remain confident in Ray-Ray McCloud and will continue to send him out as the team’s returner. McCloud headlines that “core” group of guys that Tomlin mentioned on special teams. With more returns, hopefully longer plays occur in the meantime with the kind of returner McCloud is.