Steelers Must Clean Up Special Teams Issues In Home Stretch


At this point—for the moment anyway—it really doesn’t matter whose fault it is. The Pittsburgh Steelers simply need to see better from their special teams units than they have been getting lately, and, really, throughout much of the season. I’m not immediately calling for the firing of the special teams coach, but there has simply been too many negative plays throughout the season.

In just their last game alone, the Steelers allowed a 43-yard kick return against the Colts that ignited the team’s lone scoring drive—the same drive that was aided by a successful fake punt executed by the home team that resulted in a passing play of 35 yards and which set up first and goal.

You can even add Jordan Berry to the mix lately, who has been averaging below 40 yards per punt. Against the Colts, he had a 36-yard punt that was fair caught at the 37-yard line. Perhaps that is because he spent Sunday’s game outkicking his coverage and allowing punt returns of 18 and 14 yards.

Of course, we could go back further into the season if we wanted to, and still find plenty of more incidents that have occurred on special teams to gripe about. There was the field goal that was blocked, or the roughing the kicker penalty. Of course, against the Ravens, there was the blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown that made a 13-0 game 21-0, and eventually ended with a score of 21-14. You can even add in the blunder of an onside kick attempt against the Cowboys, and subsequent illegal kick penalty on top of that.

But the bottom line is that there have been too many mistakes made on the special-teams units this year that have hurt the Steelers and significantly damaged their opportunities to win games, even if they were able to overcome some of the obstacles that they have imposed upon themselves.


For a team that is not firing on all cylinders on either the offensive side of the ball or the defensive, to be exposed to the comedy of errors that they have seen on special teams this year is really borderline inexcusable and something that they cannot afford.

While the Steelers have rarely been an above average team when it comes to their special teams units, it has been rare that it has actually been a liability. This year, it is legitimately hovering within the range of being fairly considered as a liability and a contributor to their 6-5 record.

We have already seen that it can play a critical role in a game, and in their season. The blocked punt returned for a touchdown covered the margin of victory over the Ravens, the team that has a game in hand in the head-to-head tiebreaker for the lead of the AFC North.

It’s true that the Steelers are relying upon a lot of rookies and young players, as well as injury replacements, to carry out key special teams assignments, but there can be no excuses. The errors need to be cleaned up from this point forward. It’s already had too big of a negative impact on this season.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Excellent. Folks tend to underestimate the impact of special teams on the team. I really think losing both DHB & Shamarko along with Steve Johnson going on IR has hurt them. What has Golden been doing?

  • Steelers12

    yes DHB has been heavily missed

  • JNick

    McAfee’s strut was HOF worthy.

  • RickM

    Totally agree. ST were never stellar, but as you say they were also never a liability. I really don’t know what’s up. The mistakes seem all over the place, coverage breakdowns, an onside kick blunder, great fakes by them and failures by us. I always thought our ST were capable, but not lately.

  • Joey

    Penalty worthy, too.

  • David lewis

    If anybody’s fired from the coaching staff it’ll be Danny smith and Carnell lake. The special teams are do do and have been for years. Lake, well don’t get me started on him…….

  • David lewis

    Don’t forget the fake punt in Seattle last year too.

  • MC

    Said it for a few seasons now, Danny Smith isn’t the guy. He’s had decent players (Shark, Williams, Golden, Vetrone, DHB, etc.) yet I never see anything noteworthy happen unless it’s something negative for us.
    And again, why isn’t Gilbert our returner?

  • MC

    I keep getting told on here that ST has improved since he’s come on board? at least I know im not going crazy. I think it’s been so long since we’ve seen consistent plays made on ST that even the most minimal improvements in kickoff coverage makes us complacent. But after these blocks and fakes, it’s now finally obvious to many that Smith should go.

  • AndyR34

    Gilbert doesn’t return because Tomlin believes only offensive skill players should be returning kicks.

  • Zarbor

    This unit is a huge concern without a few guys like DHB and yes, Shamarko.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Mike Mitchell didn’t take too kindly to it. He mocked it multiple times later in the game.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The punt and kick coverage units have improved. That’s about it.

  • Matthew Marczi

    That was a fake field goal, actually, but you just reminded me that they had a terrible fake punt earlier this year as well.

  • Matthew Marczi

    He had Gilbert returning for a couple of games, at least.

  • Matthew Marczi

    If there’s any silver lining to this, it’s to shed light on how valuable Thomas is to the ST units. More important than Curtis Brown was when that was the only thing keeping him on the roster.

  • Zarbor

    I agree. Only thing keeping him on the roster.

  • JNick

    I noticed that, too. To watch a goofy kicker strut down the field like that was hilarious. I get Mitchell getting upset by it but It was simply awesome. Hats off for best celebration this year.

  • AndyR34

    Yes, Smith gave Gilbert three returns with an avg. of 23 yds, before Tomlin made him change to Toussaint.

  • David lewis

    Yeah it was a fake field goal!!! My fault Matt. But when you praying that they don’t allow someone to run one back, or allow someone to block a kick. Your memory begins to fade

  • Matthew Marczi

    Toussaint has always been back there, actually. This year they’ve been using Coates/Gilbert and Toussaint as almost an even pair, each taking one side of the field more or less. Toussaint ends up fielding a lot of the touchbacks.