Steelers Report Card: Special Teams

With the season over, I find myself with a frightening lack of structure.  It was nice knowing every Monday I could recap the previous afternoon’s game and every Friday I could roll out Know Thy Enemy.  So in that vein, I’m starting a recurring feature whereby I look at every area of the Pittsburgh Steelers, evaluate their 2010 performance, and assess their outlook for 2011.  I’ll still post relevant Steelers news and talk a little about the ongoing labor strife but this will give us a little something to talk about from now until the draft.

We’ll start by getting the most insignificant part of the team out of the way.  I know some people don’t like it when I say kickers aren’t real football players so allow me to explain.  The average guy off the street would get killed trying to play linebacker.  They would have no chance at wide receiver.  But my schlub of a brother, whose greatest athletic accomplishment is two years of J.V. soccer, has successfully booted a 40 yard field goal to win a free meal at Benihana.

In fact, my favorite non-Steelers moment of the season was when Ndamukong Suh attempted an extra point.  The Big Fella had nice form and was only about a foot and a half away from an exact copy of Shaun Suisham‘s hideous conversion in the Super Bowl.

Speaking of which, did anybody else catch the Punt, Pass, And Kick girl whose dream is to be an NFL kicker?  Frankly, I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.  My cool physics professor at CMU once broke down the mechanics of kicking and “leg strength” is actually a misnomer.  Acceleration of your leg through the kicking motion and the angle which you strike the ball are just as important.  And we all know women, at least the ones who make the best girlfriends, are much more flexible than men.  So I fully expect to see the NFL’s version of Gina Carano take the field before the end of the decade.

Anyway, back to Suisham.  He did a pretty good job for the team after replacing drunk malcontent Skippy Reed midway through the season, converting fourteen of fifteen field goal attempts including eight of nine from 40-49 yards.  His kickoffs were more than satisfactory as well.  The only question with him is how he responds to pressure.  Suisham is infamous in Washington for missing an easy kick against the Saints and shanking two easy ones in the playoffs for Dallas.  He kicked the game winning 41 yarder in OT against the Bills so I’m willing to chalk his previous failures up to playing for cursed franchises.  Yeah, he had a shaky Super Bowl but a 52 yarder isn’t automatic for any kicker so I fully expect him to be back next year.

The punting situation is a little more interesting.  Daniel Sepulveda, who suffered his second season-ending injury in three years, is a free agent.  His replacement, Jeremy Kapinos, was adequate at best.  Then you have to factor in that the Steelers used a 4th round draft pick on Sepulveda.  Kevin Colbert may re-sign him just to prove he didn’t waste that pick.  Obviously I don’t have access to Sepulveda’s medical reports but if he’s healthy, I would imagine he’ll be back.  Otherwise, the job is likely wide open to whomever the Steelers bring into camp this fall.

I cannot finish this post without talking about actual football players so let’s talk returners.  The three-headed monster of Manny Sanders, Antonio Brown, and Antwaan Randle-El shared duties at various points throughout the year.  We’ll eliminate ARE from this discussion because he’s basically the football version of a DH.  Or, in his case, Designated Fair Catcher.

Which leaves us with the youngsters.  Sanders began the year as a return man and handled the duties fairly well.  Then Brown was given a shot and responded with an 89 kickoff return for a touchdown.  By the end of the season, Brown had “won” the job and I expect that to continue going forward.  He narrowly missed breaking a few after that and his 27 yard return in the AFC Championship Game was crucial in sealing the victory.

Oh, one final point about special teams.  Mike Tomlin has learned from previous years where he refused to have “special teams specialists” and would cut guys who excelled as gunners because they couldn’t play during the game.  A big part of our improved coverage this year was because of guys like Anthony Madison and Arnaz Battle.  Although one guy who better not be here next year is Keyaron Fox.  Fox’s dumbass antics in the Super Bowl severely hampered Big Ben’s chance to perform the superhuman heroics only he can perform.  It was not his first offense as his dumbass penalty in the Ravens game was what pushed the team back inside their 5 where a few plays later Ben was sacked and fumbled.  If your only job is to be a special teams ace and you suck at it, pack your bags for Kansas City because that crap don’t fly in the ‘Burgh.

FINAL GRADE FOR 2010:  B

Breaks down as follows:  Kickers: C+ (Skippy gets an F, Suisham gets a B+), Punters: C  Returners: B+ and Coverage: B+

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