The 2010 AFC Championship Game pits two teams -- the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets -- that met in the regular season. The Jets of course emerged victorious in the Week 15 matchup, and they did so thanks in part to a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown by Brad Smith on the game's opening kickoff.
It's unfair to expect a team to go an entire 16-game regular season schedule without a major mistake on special teams. The Steelers were quite good covering kickoffs in 2010, a welcomed sight after their debacle in '09. But against the Jets, the Steelers surrendered their first and only ST score of the year. The Jets would capitalize on that early score to hold on and beat the Steelers 22-17.
To begin our preview coverage of this Sunday's tilt between the Steelers and Jets, let's breakdown what exactly led to Smith taking it to the house and giving the Jets and early seven-point lead.
In our first frame, we see the five guys who are lined up to the left of Sean Suisham on the opening kickoff of the game. From left to right we have Arnaz Battle, Will Allen, Keyaron Fox, Anthony Madison, and Crezdon Butler.
Here in the second frame, we see the first troubling development: Crezdon Butler, who began on the very outside of the Steelers' coverage unit, has correctly shifted his lane towards the middle of the field. However, Butler doesn't commit far enough to the inside. If he's going to go, he's gotta go. In other words, if he really feels that Smith has committed to running up the gut, and that Anthony Madison (the leftmost man boxed) has the outside lane sealed enough, he's got to veer over to the right of where Fox is (the rightmost man boxed) and in between where Ryan Mundy is.
At this point, Butler has to slow his momentum, get his balance and legs underneath him, make sure that Smith is heading to that inner lane, and then close the hole. If he does halt his momentum and wait just a split second, he'd definitely have time to recover if Smith broke it back outside. As you can see, Butler is just to the right off the 20-yard line marker, and only a yard or two shy of the 20.
A split second later we we see that Butler is now accomplishing exactly nothing. He's incorrectly veered to the left of the 20-yard marker, and actually retreated a step or two. He's in the exact same lane that Fox and Madison have occupied. Steelers are now in huge trouble.
Also notice that No. 26, Will Allen, is engaged with a Jets blocker at the 30-yard line. Frankly, at this point in the return, it's not good that Allen is locked up at all. But there's still time for him to shed his block and close Smith's lane. Even though Allen is engaged, he can see where the play is materializing.
Allen sheds his block by now, but not before Smith has bounded from the 20 to the 27 and has built up a full head of steam. Still, Allen can make a play on him if he takes the right angle and forces Smith to slow down and cut outside of him towards the sideline. Notice that I boxed the game clock to show that Smith is about to consume another huge chunk of yardage in less than one second's time. At the moment, Smith is at about the 27 1/2 yard line, while Allen is at about the 30 or 31 yard line.
Again, before even one second has passed, Smith is 7 yards futher at the 34, while Allen is just now getting out of first gear. Too late to cut off the angle at this point.
Allen then loses more ground, and after Shaun Shuisham feebly fails at cutting off Smith, it's off to the races for the former college quarterback at Missouri.
After hours of anticipation, the crowd at Heinz Field is quickly silenced as Smith scores his second kickoff return touchdown of the year.