Assuming the Pittsburgh Steelers don\’t turn the ball over 8 times this coming Sunday, they still will have a tough chore in beating the Baltimore Ravens should quarterback Ben Roethlisberger not play. Hell, even if Roethlisberger does play it will be a tough chore, as it always is.
Do the Steelers have a chance to win if Charlie Batch winds up starting? Sure they do, but even one turnover will be one too many and the defense must continue to play at the same level that they have for the last several weeks. Even that might not be enough as we saw a few weeks ago at Heinz Field.
Outside of forcing more turnovers, it is hard to ask the defense to do any more than they have done the last several weeks. One phase that we can ask a lot more from, however, is the special teams unit, which was one of the main reasons the Steelers lost to the Ravens a few short weeks ago.
The punt return for a touchdown by Jacoby Jones in that game was the first touchdown return allowed on the season and it couldn\’t have come at a worse time. The Steelers average starting field position in that game was their own 19 yard line and the best that they had was their own 31 yard-line thanks to kicker Justin Tucker missing a field goal.
The Steelers special teams play has been down right dreadful this season. They have only forced one turnover this season and that was way back in Week 2 against the New York Jets. That seems like last season right now. The punt return unit is rankled 22nd in the league with a dismal 7.7 return average and the kickoff return unit, which you hope to see as little as possible, has posted a 25.9 yard average, good for 9th in the league. Did I mention that we want to see that unit as little as possible?
The Steelers look to get back wide receiver Antonio Brown this week after he missed the last three games with a high ankle sprain. It sure would be nice to have him back there returning punts Sunday, but fresh off an ankle injury I would say those chances are slim. That means that the punt return duties will most likely remain in the hands of Emmanuel Sanders, who had 3 for 9 yards last week in the loss to the Cleveland Browns and 3 for 12 yards in the loss to the Ravens a few weeks ago. That\’s 6 of the 9 returns that he has had this season with the lone bright spot being a 63 yard return against the New York Giants several weeks ago.
A “Batch ran” Steelers offense needs field position to win this game and it is time that the special teams unit starts pulling its weight.
I am not going to even get into the punt and kick return coverage units that are currently ranked 24th and 21st respectively. They have been awful and the Jones touchdown a few weeks ago magnified it. It really is pretty simple concept when it comes to that. Stay in your lane, beat the man in front of you and get to the return man.
The Steelers fired Al Everest a few games into the season and replaced him with assistant Amos Jones. Head coach Mike Tomlin also said at that time that he would be lending his hand in that phase as well. The results? There have been none, but every week is a new week in the NFL and all of that can change Sunday in Baltimore.
On Tuesday Tomlin said during his press conference that he had told his running backs prior to the Browns game that they need to be backup-quarterback-friendly. Perhaps he needs to think about telling the special teams units that they too need to be backup- quarterback-friendly as well.