After what Matthew Wright dubbed the “worst game of his pro career,” the Pittsburgh Steelers are sticking with him. Speaking during his Tuesday press conference, Mike Tomlin stood by Wright and said he’ll be the team’s kicker Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Yes,” Tomlin answered when asked if Wright would kick for Pittsburgh this weekend.
Wright went 2/4 in Sunday’s win over the New Orleans Saints, missing from 39 and 48 yards out. Both kicks hooked to the left and he seemed to struggle in blustery conditions, windy, cold, and a little bit snowy. It was also Wright’s first game kicking since Week 5 when he filled in for the Chiefs’ Harrison Butker.
Wright was signed off the Chiefs’ practice squad and to the Steelers’ 53-man roster last week as the team made plans to be without Chris Boswell for the next month. Boswell was placed on IR with a groin injury and will now miss at least the next three games. He hasn’t kicked since Week 7. The team swapped out Nick Sciba, who went 2/2 in Week 8, for Wright as a longer-term option.
While Tomlin said the obvious that Wright must make his kicks, he said the entire kicking unit must improve.
“Operations have to improve, our protections have to improve, and he as a kicker has to improve. We’ll go to work this week.”
Long snapper Christian Kuntz had at least one high snap while Wright was under a fair amount of pressure. Iffy snaps lead to longer operation times and a better chance for the block team’s rush to get home. It’s why kicking is an operation and not the simple act of a kick. No one has the benefit of kicking from a tee.
Still, Wright must quickly improve his game. He’s gotten better as a kicker, especially in terms of leg strength, and he has experience after handling kicking duties for most of last season in Jacksonville. But he hasn’t kicked in bad/cold weather in a long time and perhaps he didn’t adjust for conditions well enough.
The problem Pittsburgh is facing with Wright is the fact he was signed off another team’s practice squad. By rule, players signed off another team’s practice squad must occupy a roster spot for at least three games. Meaning, if Wright was waived, the team couldn’t sign a player to fill his spot. If the team wanted a new kicker, they’d either have to sign another to their 53 man roster or far more likely, sign someone to the team’s practice squad and elevate him on Saturday.
But for now, Wright will be the Steelers’ kicker. Pittsburgh’s Week One win over the Bengals ended in a kick and if it’s another close game, Wright could be the difference between a season sweep or split.