You have often heard me write and talk about the hidden yards in football games as it is a stat that is just finally starting to get its due. Whether it is yards after the catch or yards in the return game, they make the difference on a week to week basis and they set great teams apart from the good teams in a season.
Following the Sunday win over the New York Giants I posted on Twitter that the Pittsburgh Steelers had 249 yards in returns, and that is quite an astounding number for a special teams unit that has been holding back the offense because of all the penalties that they have incurred this season.
Sunday against the Giants, Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Sanders were able to flip the field several times via their return efforts. Rainey had 5 kickoff returns for 173 yards, while Sanders, who was forced into return duty because of the injuries suffered by Rainey and Antonio Brown during the game, added 3 punt returns for 76 yards.
While none of the big returns during the night resulted in points, a pretty amazing fact to itself, they did manage to keep the field flipped in favor of the Steelers, which in turn meant the Giants offense was usually faced with long fields to drive. If you dont think that aided the Steelers defense, you\’re fooling yourself.
While Sunday was not the first time we have seen strong efforts in the return game, it was the first time that we saw several of them in one without a yellow piece of laundry on the ground after them. Head coach Mike Tomlin put his special team units on notice following the win over the Cincinnati Bengals and reserve cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke was made an example of last week when he was benched for the game against the Washington Redskins for being an egregious offender.
The only special teams penalty Sunday night for the offensive return unit was on tight end Leonard Pope, who was flagged for the seldom called blind-side block. That was a questionable call at best and only negated a 10 yard kickoff return by Rainey.
The Steelers ball control offense won\’t continue to waste these opportunities going forward, so the step in the right direction on returns will hopefully continue. The yards might be hidden on a stat sheet, but they were fully exposed to the Giants and the Steelers coaching staff.