Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not much special about the Steelers' special teams

Lynn  Chadnois
Amid all the angst and hand-wringing over the Steelers' porous defense and lackluster running game in Oakland, not much has been said about the Steelers' woeful performance on special teams.  

Amos Jones coaches special teams now in the wake of the firing of Al Everest just a month ago.  It's fair to ask, What's going on with the special teams?

First of all, why can't Shaun Suisham kick the ball out of the end zone like every other NFL kicker these days?  Now that the NFL has more or less taken kickoff returns out of the game by moving up the kickoff mark, it's becoming rare to even see kickoffs being returned this season.  Not so in Oakland on Sunday.  

First, the Raiders opened the game with a 37-yard kickoff return.  Then, in the third quarter, just after the Steelers had opened their lead and gotten some breathing room, Suisham's kickoff was returned 51 yards to set up a touchdown.  There's no excuse for short kickoffs in this new NFL.

Speaking of kicks, it seemed rookie punter Drew Butler showed his first case of nerves on Sunday.  He seemed rattled, perhaps by being on the same field as Oakland's great punter, Shane Lechler, and maybe by the overall atmosphere.  Butler kicked as if he were trying to match  the veteran Lechler, a perennial All-Pro; maybe Butler just tried too hard.  

Whatever the reason, Butler shanked a 29-yarder and shorted a 35-yard punt.  Both of these bad punts gave the Raiders good field position and seemed to give their offense a shot of adrenalin.  Such punts are not going to cut it.

Also, what's going on with the Steelers' punt returns?  We cannot overlook the double-penalty that nullified Antonio Brown's nifty 73-yard punt return.  Officials never identified the culprits, so we don't really know what happened on that play.  But we'd like to know what happened.  

Brown made the Pro Bowl as a punt returner last year.  Just as he is at wide receiver, Brown as a punt returner is merely terrific, poised, polished, sure-handed, explosive and electrifying. There's probably no reason to not use him as a punt returner, but wasn't Chris Rainey supposed to assume that role?  

And, when might Rainey show something on kickoffs?  Oh, that's right, never mind.  Most NFL kickers now are able to simply kick the ball out of the end zone.  Except for Shaun Suisham.

Let's end this discussion on a positive note:  Newly acquired DeMarcus Van Dyke looks like an ideal gunner on punt coverage.  It's the little things that count, and we're grateful for something good.

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