Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kickin' up a storm

Steelers-Ravens games are typically close, often within a three-point margin, with Baltimore's 20-point win on Sept. 11th being more the exception than the rule.

If Sunday night's game comes down to a long field goal attempt -- 50 yards or more -- the Steelers may or may not send Shaun Suisham out to try one. They kept him on the sideline late in the first half vs. the Colts last Sunday when the opportunity for a 51-yard attempt presented itself.

The Ravens would not have hesitated to send kicker Justin Tucker out on the field in that situation.

Justin Tucker, doing his thing
Last Sunday in Cincinnati, Tucker kicked field goals of 45, 50 and 53 yards. Last year, he made 33 consecutive field goals, including a 61-yarder at Ford Field (indoors) last December. In that game, he became the only kicker in NFL history to kick FGs from 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards in a single game.

Now in his third year, Tucker has made all eight field goal attempts in his career vs. the Steelers, including the three he's tried at Heinz Field. In the Nov. 28th game at Baltimore last year, he kicked five field goals to key the Ravens' 22-20 win over the Steelers. He had 133 points his rookie season in 2012 and 140 points last year.

Tucker is making a strong case as arguably the best kicker in the NFL. As noted by ESPN's Jamison Henley, "The Ravens have shown a lot of confidence in Tucker this season, and his six attempts from 50 yards or longer are tied with Atlanta's Matt Bryant for the most in the NFL. Tucker has converted 10 of his 11 last field-goal tries, and his only miss was a 64-yarder that got blocked. He is 18-of-21 (85.7 percent) on the season after making his first Pro Bowl last season."

A 51-yard FG attempt too long?
One of the few unfortunate decisions the Steelers' coaching staff made on Sunday vs. the Colts came shortly before the end of the first half. Indianapolis had just gone 80 yards in eight plays to narrow the blowout score to 35-17, still within shouting distance.

After the the Steelers got the ball back with 1:56 left on the clock, they drove to the Indianapolis 34-yard line, where the drive stalled with 41 seconds left in the first half. At that point, rather than having Shaun Suisham attempt a 51-yard field goal, which would have been probably just a bit out of his range, the coaches instructed Ben Roethlisberger to attempt a pooch punt. It was blocked.

The Colts took over, and Andrew Luck drove them down to the Pittsburgh five-yard line, where Adam Vinatieri kicked a field goal with one second left to make it a two-score game at halftime.

That was 10 unanswered points before halftime, usually not a good thing. As it turned out, the Steelers took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched right downfield en route to another touchdown, but that late field goal in the first half was unnecessary and made things uncomfortable later in the second half, until Andrew Luck was called for a safety in the end zone with 12:44 left in the fourth quarter and the Colts down by just eight -- a one-score game. The decision to pooch punt before the first half was a contributing factor to the game being so close at that point.

It seemed a curious call at the time: Most observers would have said, "Either go for it on fourth-and-four, have Brad Wing punt it, or have Suisham attempt a 51-yard field goal."

The Baltimore Ravens would have had no qualms about sending out Tucker to attempt a 51-yarder. He's a key asset for the Ravens, just as the incredibly reliable Suisham is for the Steelers. Tucker just has a little more leg, and that could be a factor.

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