A Special Point Of Interest

By Chris Gates

New special teams coach Al Everest told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he has four goals for the return teams.

They are: 1. Ball security. 2. Positive yards. 3. Return the ball in scoring position. 4. Scoring touchdowns.

I’d love to hear what his plans are for kick and punt pursuit.

While the Steelers defense was the popular choice to blame in 2009 for their 9-7 record and failure to make the playoffs, other factors played a significant part.

For one, the offense was horrendous inside the redzone. Another was time of possession in the fourth quarter. But the third and most forgotten seems to be the kickoff and punt teams.

Pittsburgh surrendered a total of four touchdowns to the opposition on kickoffs alone and must rewrite that part of the playbook this summer before the season begins.

“What I’ve learned here is, it’s a complete team game,” safety Troy Polamalu told the Post-Gazette. “You can’t give up big plays and pass the ball and not have any time of possession. You can’t give up big plays on special teams and big plays on defense and turnovers on offense. We built our identity on a team game, and that’s all three parts working together.”

Those aspects rarely went unaccomplished in Steeler wins in 2009.

“We’re not like New England or (Indianapolis) where Peyton Manning can win the game by himself or Tom Brady can win the game by himself,” Polamalu continued. “That’s not the way we were built. That’s not the way we won two Super Bowls — six Super Bowls, mind you.”

So while I enjoy hearing the updates on who is taking more snaps than who under center in training camp and which unit won the goal line drill at the end of practice, I’d much rather know who is going to be hunting down the likes of Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs.

Gene Collier pointed out in his August 5 column that the Steelers could have been as good as 12-4 in 2009 had it not been for the special teams ineptitude.

“It’s like I told them last night,” said Everest, “when you’re giving up that many returns, you have to start on the perimeter. You’re only going to be as good as your people on the perimeter. They make the play. They squeeze the play. They prevent the big play.”

So guys like Ryan Mundy, Keyaron Fox and maybe even someone like free agent acquisition Arnaz Battle must step in and change the tune of the Steelers’ special teams under Everest’s new system.

If they’re unable to, Mundy might be saying words like these again next summer…

“The opponents scored on eight plays when the defense was not even on the field. When that happens, it’s only natural that it makes or breaks a season.”

Read more from Chris Gates at his Area 4-1-ZOO Pitt Panther Blog and follow him on Twitter at @Chris_Gates.