Film Room: Darrius Heyward-Bey Still Key Cog On Special Teams

I brought you yesterday the first in a weekly installment of special teams reports, designed to bring to attention the fact that many of the routines contributions on special teams are not recognized with any statistics that are tracked at all, let alone conventional statistics.

I don’t know if this will be a weekly thing, but today I wanted to highlight some of those contributions that often go unobserved, and I figured that one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most valuable special teams players, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, would be a good place to start.

Everybody’s favorite wide receiver logged 17 snaps on special teams on Sunday, with was among the most on the team and represented 68 percent of the Steelers’ total snaps on special teams for the day, including the opening kickoff.

It is surely not the most exciting play of the game, when you consider the fact that it ended in a touchback, but I think it’s a good starting point in discussing one of Heyward-Bey’s primary roles. He is always used at the end of the right side of the coverage on kickoffs, and essentially his job is to speed down the field and help funnel the return into the heart of the coverage—as you’ll see in a bit. For now, just notice how quickly he gets down the field relative to everybody else.

Later in the quarter, on what I believe was the Steelers’ first punt of the game, we see Heyward-Bey in one of his other major roles, a gunner on the punt coverage unit. Here he was able to take advantage of the near vice jammer nudging him out of bounds to race past both of them with his still-elite speed. He likely would have been in position to induce a fair catch had the punt been inbounds.

On a later punt, we see what happens when only one gunner gets the job done. Mike Hilton got stuck way upfield, so all Heyward-Bey could do on this punt with poor hangtime was funnel the returner to the opposite side of the field, where he was run out of bounds.

He did manage one special teams tackle, and that came after a 25-yard return. You can see the team using him in middle coverage here, but most importantly, watch him track the path of the returner through a crowd of jammers.

Finally, notice his contributions on this kickoff tackle that left the Browns on the 11-yard line. With Heyward-Bey quickly getting in position to lock down the nearside perimeter, the returner and his blockers were forced into the teeth of the coverage. No one player makes a special teams tackle. It’s all about lane discipline and cohesion.

The season opener did not mark the most exciting special teams performance once you get past the blocked punt that started off the game, admittedly, but I think this at least begins to show what a player like Heyward-Bey brings to the table on a weekly basis. He also induced a fair catch.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • capehouse

    Surprised DHB didn’t win specialteams captain.

  • Michael Putman

    DHB has been a professional since he was drafted. He doesn’t complain about his playing time, he doesn’t make contract demands. He is a great teammate and a great player to root for. Glad we still have him!


    Great read, good job! Knew there was something special that kept him around. Thanks for showing everyone.

    Steelers going to the Super Bowl!

  • nutty32

    Wonder if the Browns had a “counter pull” return set up on that last gif or if the up back just decided to cut away from the wall & the returner just followed. In any event, great lane discipline by the good guys like you point out. Also cool to watch the guys execute their assignments on the directional punts; couple gaps but by-in-large pretty good.

  • Scunge

    From what I see Bey did not lead the team with special teams snaps, he was behind Nix (20), Chickillo (20), Matakevich, Golden, Fort (all 3 with 19). Then you had Bey with 17 snaps.

    Sorry, but I saw nothing that Bey did that Brian Allen could not do. And I am curious, why are you conveniently not mentioning the holding penalty that wiped out an Eli Rogers 8 yard return and that backed up the offense to the 9 yard line?

    Is that an example of fine special teams play?

  • SfSteeler

    that last gif was interesting watching the overall flow to the ball as the outside two positions eventually flip with the #2 covering the outside of the return to force it inside…

  • Matthew Marczi

    I said he had among the most, not the most. Brian Allen doesn’t even have the speed to do what Heyward-Bey does on special teams. He also has no experience as a gunner to date, so it is not even possible to know that he could do it. Regarding the hold, I thought it was inconsequential because it was not indicative of an act of desperation but rather an aberration, but needless to say a hold is a negative. Still, your comment reeks of an obvious slant against Heyward-Bey. Let me guess, you didn’t want him to make the team?

  • Scunge

    The only thing that reeks is your obvious love of said player and your blindspot towards him and how you would not point out an obvious negative play that he had on special teams.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I mentioned it in my special teams report the day before. Can you really re-read your previous comment and say that it’s not obviously coming from somebody who thinks he should be off the team?