One aspect of the game that was an absolute train wreck for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their loss to the New York Giants, was that of special teams. Special teams is something that can easily make or break an important game. It’s a part of the game that should never be overshadowed by offense or defense, but oftentimes it is.
It was evident that special teams was a huge issue in the Steelers’ first preseason game. Even last season the special teams didn’t look to be playing at a high level. This is something that desperately needs to change or the Steelers are going to come up short in close games, just like they did last season.
Ever heard the phrase, “football’s a game of inches?” It’s true. That’s where kickoffs and punting come into play. Kickoffs aren’t a huge issue these days because more times than not a kicker is booting the ball out of the back of the end zone, preventing stupid penalties on kickoff returns or coverage and having guys take a knee in the end zone rather than trying to be the All-Star return man are definitely things that should be addressed. However, I see the major problems with the punting unit.
During the first quarter, Drew Butler had a punt blocked by the Giant’s defensive end Damontre Moore. DaMon Cromartie-Smith of the Steelers completely whiffed when trying to block Moore, allowing him to leap in front of Butler to block the punt. The blocked punt led to a field goal for the Giants. What makes this even worse is that this punt was a redo. The initial punt that pinned the Giants deep, was called off due to Marshall McFadden being an ineligible man downfield.
David Gilreath really did himself in with his performance in the preseason game. Gilreath made two errors as the return man for punts. The first, he fielded a punt at his own 3-yard line and tried to return it only to swallowed up by the Giant’s special teams coverage. Even though he was able to return it 4 yards, that was nullified by yet another penalty. This time the penalty came from wide receiver, Justin Brown who was flagged for an illegal block in the back. The other mistake came when Gilreath fielded a punt but let it hit off his chest causing him to fumble. The fumble was recovered by the Giants. That’s 3 more gaffes to add to the special teams and 2 of the blunders really hurt Gilreath’s chances of earning a roster spot.
As far as the field goal unit is concerned, I really do have a lot of confidence in Shaun Suisham. Suisham last season missed a few important kicks but for the most part is very consistent. I don’t expect him to be perfect this season but I believe he’ll get the job done when called upon.
Special teams is not something the Steelers want to take lightly. Penalites are common in the preseason because everything hasn’t come together yet but they cannot become a long-term issue for the Steelers. Penalities will come back to bite you, just like McFadden’s did with the blocked punt. Hopefully having experienced players returning punts will negate mistakes like Gilreath’s but if not it’ll be a long season for the return game. I may be coming down hard for it only being the first preseason game but it scares to me to see special teams perform badly. If the Steelers special teams doesn’t improve there’s no doubt that the team will be on the short end of the stick in every close game they play this upcoming season.