Tomlin Says Kickoff Return Issues A Result Of Poor Fielding Of Football

The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly have a few issues to fix in all three phases ahead of their Week 14 home game against the New England Patriots and one of them revolves around their kickoff returns.

During the team’s Sunday night home win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers returned six kickoffs for a total of 78 yards, or an average of 13 yards per opportunity. Five of those were returned by wide receiver Martavis Bryant and one of those almost resulted in a safety.

After the game was over, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the teams kickoff return phase and that being an obvious issue for the team Sunday night against the Ravens.

“I don’t know that the kick return game was an issue, the fielding of the ball was an issue,” Tomlin said during his post game press conference. “We’ll get back in the lab and work on that.”

While Bryant has provided a few sparks on kickoff returns since beginning to work in that role a few weeks ago, he’s been far from consistent when it comes to him fielding the football cleanly. Additionally, he’s averaged just 16.8 yards per return on his nine total opportunities. Bryant is, however, responsible for the team’s longest kickoff return of the season and had another one that he took 96-yards for a touchdown in Week 13 against the Cincinnati Bengals negated by a holding call.

With rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster set to return this coming week from his one-game suspension, it will be interesting to see if he and Bryant are allowed to be the team’s two deep returners on kickoffs against the Patriots. Smith-Schuster, however, hasn’t exactly been overly effective this season when he’s had his chances as he’s averaged just 13.8 yards per return on five total opportunities.

As a team, the Steelers are averaging 16.9 yards per kickoff return this season.

  • Conserv_58

    The Steelers have been trying desperately to find a legitimate kick returner for umpteen years. Martavis proved last night he is not the answer either.

  • Mark Stouffer

    A lot of credit to Justin Tucker on the kickoffs. He easily could’ve boomed each kickoff out of the end zone, but kicked it just a little short each time, knowing we have no return game.

  • falconsaftey43


  • razaard2

    Cam Sutton?

  • John Noh

    It was like playing grenades with him. It could have gone bad so many times!

  • Renohightower

    Please please please draft a returner this is ridiculous

  • Renohightower

    hes lucky he did not get tackled for a safety

  • Renohightower

    PR in college

  • SteelerFanInIL

    I would love to have a ticket to “the lab” and see how things are worked on. There has been a lot of analysis and work in “the lab” over the years and the same issues occur over and over. As much as I do not want it to happen, I’m afraid the issues in all three phases will be issues again this coming week.

  • pittfan

    Ironically, that was the best piece of open field running we’ve seen from him all year.
    He reminds me of a baby deer just learning to walk

  • gdeuce

    every team has issues, no team is perfect

  • pittfan

    And only 3 are 11-2.

  • Nathanael Dory

    Try that didnt worked well

  • johnnypudding

    Pretty cool being 11-2 though isn’t it?!

  • pittsburghjoe

    Unrelated to this article, has anyone heard an update on Vance McDonald? Man, he looked good and we need him back. Im hoping if things are bad, he has 5 full weeks to get healthy enough for the playoffs, if they get a bye.

  • pittsburghjoe

    At least Fitz will run hard straight ahead… nothing more than an average yawner, but at least he is not risky.

  • CountryClub

    I’ve never been comfortable with him back there because I feel like he’s a fumble just waiting to happen. Hopefully this experiment has ended.

  • pittsburghjoe

    Sure…. why the hell not.

  • Cormel Bovan Sr.

    Yeah he’s not running well at all. Like I said to a guy in another thread, I think he came back with too much added muscle. I think that’s why he’s not as agile as he was. Even with the muscle he shows no fight when people make contact.

  • Ray Istenes

    Keep MB in the role.

    Tucker was getting serious air under the ball and dropping them on the goal line. That does not excuse the drop but hard to get a good return under the circumstances. Bryant and JuJu should get the nod going forward. Both can block and both can return. Fitz does not give much hope for a return.

  • DirtDawg1964

    Bryant is getting into far more than 16.8 yards per return. I’m sure I’ve seen him run at least 40 yards side to side on each return. Now, if only we can get him to run up the field, instead of across it.

  • DirtDawg1964

    He is having trouble fielding the ball and is looking to break one to the outside each time. He should be running straight up field and maxing out the yards. Running to a point where you get hemmed in does nothing.

  • SteelerFanInIL

    The Pats probably thought their undefeated regular season was pretty cool, but I’m sure they were not happy with what followed. I’m thinking the Steelers just don’t want to be a good regular season team. Like MT says, the standard for the team is championships and they do not come around having consistent issues in so many areas.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Honestly he usually catches the ball and sometimes even times it well. Last
    Night Marty looked like he better get his eyes checked.

  • Mark

    He’s playing not to get hurt and it clearly shows in his tentative play. He, JuJu, and Jesse will need a big game this week. We have to run the football effectively and eat up the clock against the Pats. Belicheat is going to take away Bell and Brown maybe. However, they can’t cover all of our weapons.

    The only defensive strategy is to put 6 defenders in the the A, B, and C gaps on both sides of the line. This will confuse the linemen on who to block and which players are dropping into coverage. We can only rush 3 or 4 players, Cam and Tuitt must own both A gaps to get pressure on Brady up the middle and not worry about the run.

  • PittShawnC

    Add getting fired from KO return duties to the impressive list of 2017 “contributions” MB’s made.

  • treeher

    Where are we league-wise? Is it that we’re terrible, or is our coverage bad, because our opponents ALWAYS have more return yard average on punts and kick offs.

  • Ni mo

    Bryant is lazy and lacks heart

  • copanut

    In the basement, Yes, Yes, True.

    Chewing Gum has to go.

  • Ichabod

    “I don’t know that the kick return game was an issue, the fielding of the ball was an issue,”…this is one of the few complaints I have against Tomlin. An obvious issue that has needed addressing for years and yet the sub-par return unit remains so.
    Why doesn’t he just say our return units ARE an issue and deal with it!

  • Ed Smith

    LOL, good observation!

  • popsiclesticks

    I agree. Let MB work on this because I’d rather have a guy who returns kickoffs to the 18 and is a threat to house one every time he touches the ball (as he’s shown) than a guy who dependably returns them to like, the 21.

  • popsiclesticks

    I’m sure they’ve tried. It doesn’t really matter what he says to the media. He says things like “we just stick to our gameplan” all the time but in reality, they don’t. Most NFL teams are like this – coachspeak is just that, IMO.

  • Buccos9

    Cam Sutton was a good returner in college, but he won’t get a chance because Tomlin insists that the returner must be an offensive player. His stubbornness has no limit.

  • ryan72384

    I have never seen a player look so tentative and jittery with the ball as Bryant has looked this year. He literally just comes to a complete stop and tenses up and waits to get hit. If he doesn’t catch the ball running full speed he is useless. I’d say this is Bryants last year as a Steeler. Honestly wish we would have kept Sammie. He still had the wheels to get deep and ran hard. What a rise and fall for both Bryant and Coates. Shows you how important confidence is.

  • Stairway7

    You’re right. If he’s not wide open and the ball doesn’t hit him in his hands its probably a drop. He looks even more tentative on KR. Maybe its a by product of all the trade talk…not getting mine…BS that has him feeling under pressure. Right now he’s just a 6’5″ 235 pound guy that runs like he’s got cement in his shoes. I swear sometimes I think he and Jesse are looking for a place to fall down softly.

  • Ichabod

    You may be right…it sure is frustrating. Just catch the ball and run fast and straight.

  • Rocksolid20

    That’s his MO , play one set three .

  • George Kroger

    Agree with you on Bryant, but not Coates. Have you seen his numbers? 5 catches for 62 yards. I know he’s on the browns, but he has the same “desire” issues as Bryant.

  • George Kroger

    Politicians never admit there is fault.

    The comment you quote I find to be hysterical. Fielding the ball IS a kick return issue, Mike! Get someone back there that can field the ball and the kick return issues may just go away.

  • Biggie

    The shame of it is we’ve been looking for a kick returner for years and here we are just 3 games before the playoffs and we’re still looking. Bryant made a great return (called back) last week but yesterday he was a comedy of errors back there and almost gave up a safety. I mean if we could at least find someone to get it to the 25 each time that would be something.

    Also Bryant has done nothing to give anyone confidence in him this year when he has had the opportunity to produce. He looked lazy on a number of plays. Even when he caught the ball he was looking to go down or out of bounds without any effort in trying to push it downfield. Once they grabbed him he either went down or quit running and just gave up. He quit on routes and took off a number of plays. He wants to talk about how he is better than others, well he hasn’t shown that at all. We really need him to step up and he hasn’t yet. Rogers stepped up and made a couple nice catches. James stepped up and had a great game and was there every time Ben needed him. Glad JuJu will be back for patsies game.

  • John Pennington

    Let Sutton return kickoffs and punt return duties.Let him get his hands on the ball wont know what you have if you dont let the man show what he can do.Who cares if he us not a offensive player if he can do the job let him do it.Need all the help we can get on Sunday.Use all the tools in the toolbox.Time is now.

  • Matt Manzo

    I think he was just trying to do too much! Then he got scared and it rattled him.
    I’d like to see him keep trying. If he doesn’t figure it out in a few weeks, than bring Fitz back.

  • RMSteeler

    Martavis actually made Jesse James look athletic last night.

  • me

    MB is all elbows and knees now…he was like Charlie Brown back there last night and when he plays WR is goes down like JJames…

  • LHW

    No kidding.

  • francesco

    Alot of MB haters on this site.
    I am of the opinion that he is nervous because of what transpired earlier in the season. As well he looks like he is trying too hard to get coaches to like him since then. Then yesterday the ball must have felt like a rock once kicked because of the cold air. Once the ball bounces in front of you it is not easy to pick it up cleanly. I would like to see what Tomlin would do? Tomlin just likes to talk.

  • Conserv_58

    Not haters. Realists. If he’s trying so hard to get the coaches to like him then he should have kept his and girlfriend’s mouths shut. As for him handling cold balls, stop it. Did you see what kind of weather the Bills and Colts were playing in? Did you see what Shady McCoy did?

  • Conserv_58

    Please. What has Coates done to make you think the Steelers should have kept him? What has he done since being with the browns? He’s got wheels. So what. He’s still got glass hands too. Now that Gordon is back, Coates will never see the field. I’ll go so far as to say that I bet the browns cut him after the season is over.

  • Conserv_58

    Meh. Give me a kick returner that runs forward and get’s twenty-five yards any day over a timid and indecisive guy either runs sideways for no yards, freezes up and folds up because he afraid to get hit.

  • Conserv_58

    We’l find out tomorrow from Coach T’s press conference.

  • Conserv_58

    A big part of Martavis’ problem as a kick returner is he’s a long strider. His running style works fine as long as he has a clear path and doesn’t have to cut and juke his way down the field.

  • PaeperCup

    Props to Tucker, he doesn’t make it easy. Easily best kicker in football.

  • pittsburghjoe

    good point

  • pittsburghjoe


  • Bill

    He’s lost his confidence and it’s likely that the Steelers’ organization at some level has played a role in that.
    In terms of yards per KO return he’s better that anyone else.

  • Bill

    The real problem with the KO return stuff is the Steelers have not done their homework to find a decent returner in the draft.

  • francesco

    Most MB haters are those who have JuJu as the next coming.
    Yet Steelers scored 39 points without JuJu in the lineup!

  • Intense Camel

    Lol perfect comparison

  • Intense Camel

    I’m surprised that no one is talking about this. He’s clearly not the same physically as he was before. Guys could barely get a hand on him when he was skinny, now he can’t juke a baby.

  • Constantinople

    seriously, this team MUST have the worst kick-return unit in the league every freaking year since 199-whenever, it’s embarrassing