Pittsburgh’s special teams units vastly under-performed during the preseason, and I am sure that the recently hired Danny Smith would have agreed with that sentiment.
The Steelers allowed a blocked punt, a blocked field goal, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and the coverage units were porous and their play was penalty-laden. Not much went right for Pittsburgh’s special teams, and it looked like they would be an enormous liability this fall.
To be fair to them and their rapid improvement though, credit must go to Pittsburgh’s “special teamers” for their play during the team’s most recent win versus Baltimore.
The big hero of the evening was kicker Shaun Suisham who booted four important field goals during the game, and kicked the game-winner from 42 yards as time expired. Pittsburgh’s “Kicking Canuck” has been nothing short of “money” this year (14/14 field goals), and the work of his long snapper (Greg Warren), holder (Zoltan Mesko), and blocking unit deserve credit as well for their execution.
As fantastic as Suisham’s final field goal was, he would not have had a chance to make it had Emmanuel Sanders not pulled off an electrifying kickoff return after Baltimore tied the game at 16-16.
Although Sanders’ electrifying kickoff return was nullified, he nevertheless took the ball to Pittsburgh’s 37 yard line and set his team up with terrific field position for their game-winning drive. One could even say that the wide receiver’s risky decision to bring the ball out of the end zone on the kickoff was the most important play of the game.
With solid field position, Roethlisberger and the offense looked calm, comfortable, and collected, and it showed as they drove 39 yards with relative ease over the final 1:58.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention the play of Pittsburgh’s kickoff and punt coverage units during their most recent win as well. It takes a collectively strong effort to keep the explosive Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss in check on kickoff and punt returns, but that is exactly what the Steelers’ special teams players did throughout the game.
Doss was held in check on his only punt return of the game, while Jones was kept at bay enough so Joe Flacco was not able to work with any “short fields” when Baltimore took over on offense.
While there is always room for improvement, especially with Mesko’s punting, Pittsburgh’s special teams deserve kudos for their efforts against Baltimore over the weekend. Once a massive liability, it would be nice to see the special teams units emerge as a strength and an “X-Factor” for this team down the stretch.
The Steelers will need tremendous help in all three phases of the game over their final 10 contests, and it will be interesting to see how much their special teams units can improve as the season progresses.
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