Steelers’ Special Teams Ranked 27th By Pro Football Focus

During the first couple of weeks of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked pretty solid, overall, on special teams. Since then? Not so good. They had some momentum-swinging moments go their way in the first two games, but those plays reversed course in the two games since, hurting them more than helping.

According to Pro Football Focus, this has ultimately landed the Steelers toward the bottom of the league in terms of their overall special teams value, ranking just 27th out of the 32 teams in the league. The only teams ranked below them are the Giants, Cardinals, Jaguars, Colts, and Chargers…and they do play the Jaguars this week. Two of their previous opponents are also ranked just above them.

Now, I have been making an effort to pay closer attention to special teams this year, instituting a weekly special teams report and focusing one film study a week on a player’s special teams performance, but even so, I don’t pay attention to the 31 other teams’ special teams units the way I do the Steelers’.

So for that reason, I couldn’t possibly begin to offer a coherent debate about whether or not the team is ranked fairly relative to the other 32 teams, because I don’t have sufficient knowledge to compare and contrast between what they have done and what others have done. All I can do is offer my own thoughts.

Each game almost has so far had a highlight or lowlight on special teams. In the season opener, it was a big blocked punt by Tyler Matakevich that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by Anthony Chickillo. A week later, Matakevich made a heads-up play when the Vikings ran a fake punt, throwing a pass that the linebacker was able to cover and defend.

But a week after that, the Steelers had a field goal attempt blocked that was returned for what should have been a touchdown, with Vance McDonald stripping the ball out at the goal line. An illegal batting penalty on Jordan Berry put the ball on the one-yard line, and the Bears ultimately got a field goal, completing a potential six-point swing in a game that went into overtime. Earlier in that game, Eli Rogers muffed a punt that Chicago recovered, eventually scoring a touchdown.

The only game that didn’t have a major turning point moment on special teams was Sunday’s against the Ravens, yet it still featured a missed field goal. And truthfully Berry’s punting hasn’t been very impressive this year.

Neither has the return game, either on kickoffs or punts, which is nothing atypical. The only units that have been at least average or approach above average have been the coverage units, and even those have faltered at times.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • NCSteel

    Uneven yes but a little early in the season to judge and pass sentence.
    One thing is certain, there is much room for improvement.

  • falconsaftey43

    Yeah, haven’t been good overall. A couple of individual players have made some great plays (Matakevich, Chickillo, DHB, McDonald). But the overall results have been poor. I’m getting concerned about the FG unit. Seems a guy off the edge is really close to blocking every kick. This past week, I do believe a player was in fact too early and had dove completely past the kicker before the ball was kicked.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    We have always had a weak special teams as long as I can remember.

  • NCSteel

    That is true Michael.
    That is very true.
    The problem is systemic and goes way back.

  • Michael Conrad

    I would love to know we can’t find a punter. I see other punters change the field and our punter gives us 40 yard punts with a few 48’s at best . This is year after year how hard is it to bring in 5 guys and check them out every year until we get one. Our kick off coverage is not as good as last year.

  • JT

    Well I bet they’re at least 26th now, after that dumpster fire from TB.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    ???

  • Brian Miller

    At least we don’t have Winston as QB…

  • Jaybird

    They were pretty good with Woodson returning and Gary Anderson kicking back in the late 80’s

  • Brian Miller

    Michael below is right, seems like our special team units are always mediocre to bad…every year. And yet there never seems to be a change in coaches or game plan.

  • Brian Miller

    Nice…

  • Brian Miller

    I assume Danny Smith was not the coach then?!?

  • Rob

    But Tomlin makes Danny Smith put random players out there, so this is really all Tomlin’s fault

  • cencalsteeler

    Judge Smails needs to offer ol Danny boy a Fresca.

  • Steeler Nation!

    How do you figure? Our depth is supposed to be better than it’s been in years at almost every position. And we keep guys like DHB, Moats and Matakevich who only contribute on ST. When you add in a Snapper, P and K how many more spots can we allocate just for ST players. Isn’t it Coach Smith’s JOB to develop ST role players? It is and He hasn’t done a good job of it.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    i’ve only been watching since 98 when i came to the usa from ireland.

  • Rob

    How much do i have to pay for a sarcasm font around here?

  • Steeler Nation!

    HAHA! Gotcha

  • colingrant

    Concerning punt and kick-off returns my only wish is ball security. The Steelers return yards gained are nice, (bonus) but I’m fine if we gain zero yards. Just don’t turn it over. We’re OK with executing field goals. My MAIN concern will always be punt and kickoff execution and coverage. Games can be lost here. Field goals made are obvious game changing, but poor kick and punt return execution and return yardage are silent killers, especially against a dynamic offense. The Steelers lost a Superbowl birth (Pats) solely from punting situational breakdowns (punt block and TD return, if I recall.

  • Steeler Nation!

    You recall correctly. That was a painful one. Still have Troy Brown nightmares.

  • Jaybird

    I take back that the Steelers ST were good back then . Dennis Fitzgerald was the ST coach in 1987-1988. He was fired after the 88 season in which the Steelers had
    SIX PUNTS BLOCKED that year! SIX!!!!
    But Anderson was an All Pro and Woodson made a pro bowl as a KR so there were some bright spots.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Yeah, Humphrey jumped early around James on the right side. But as I look back, it’s kind of always like this. The primary objective of the wings, outside of maintaining a wall of protection in the front (which is a higher priority than the perimeter) is just to force the edge rusher to take as wide an angle as possible because in doing so it makes it virtually impossible for a human being to get to the ball in time with a properly-timed kick.

  • colingrant

    I can’t recall the Steelers having an excellent ST coach. Bobby April comes to mind, but I’m unsure if he was the most effective. I think so, but can’t recall clearly. For some reason his name pops up.

  • colingrant

    That’s an astounding stat. It’s possible that if there wasn’t a ST coach, six punts may not be blocked! Has to be a record of some type. That’s one every 2.5 games I believe. Surprised he lasted until season’s end, but then again Noll seemingly grew more compassionate near the end of his coaching career. Cowher would have taken over duties after the 3rd punt block, similar to how he neutered Ron Earhardt and usurped him with Chan Gailey in 96.

  • nutty32

    This is the most positive I’ve felt about our ST in a very long time (jinx).

  • Brian Miller

    Gary Anderson and Rod Woodson definitely made up for deficiencies!

  • Jaybird

    Hot Rod Woodson- my Fav Steeler of all time.

  • Jaybird

    I think Cower may have had an aneurism or a stroke if he coached through 6 blocked punts.

  • Steve

    AB did a good job returning punts. We may need to put him back there again.

  • Steve

    Wonder if they were blocked, because of the same positional player? Teams love to find weaknesses, Bilacheat is Great for this.

  • Steve

    Cower probably would have spit in their face. Which he has non purposely done a few times.

  • Steve

    You missed all the excitment of the 70’s with the Steelers- HA!

  • Steve

    That kicker last nite couldn’t hit the side of a barn. My Grandmother could have done better and she been dead 20 years.

  • Steve

    Steelers won 2 games last year on 3 pointers.

  • Jaybird

    I find it almost impossible to believe the same player would be responsible for SIX blocked punts AND STILL have a job!

  • colingrant

    “Field goals made are obviously game changing”………. for sure.

  • Conserv_58

    Bad ST’s play plagued Cowher’s teams too.

    I didn’t watch the patriots/Bucs game, but when I learned the following day how the Bucs lost the game I just rolled my eyes in disbelief and then thought to myself, “Of course the Bucs lost to the patriots by missing three field goals!” Then again, when I saw videos of the game I saw how the Bucs were pummeling Brady. They were in his face all game. Brady looked rather pedestrian several times. There is no doubt in my mind that the patriots are deep trouble if Brady continues to get hit at the rate he has been.

    The patriots are the scourge of the NFL. No one, but their insufferable fans, want to see them in the playoffs, let alone the SB. Of course other teams are playing to win their divisions, but as far as the AFC is concerned destroying the patriots is the ultimate goal. It doesn’t need to be said, but it is understood that the patriots reign must end, this year. So far this season the patriots have shown weaknesses that can be exploited. Their defense is no longer a championship calibur one. Opposing defenses are penetrating the patriots OL and teeing off on Brady. They’re sacking and hitting him more than he has before this early in the season.

  • Conserv_58

    Yup and it’s been the Steelers Achillie’s Heel since the beginning of Cowher’s tenure as HC.

  • Conserv_58

    The did and are this Sunday.

  • Conserv_58

    Of all of the coaching positions on the Steelers the ST’s coaching position has seen the most turnover of any other coaching position.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    I’m okay with that. I can’t stand Bradshaw.