A quick post here but one that I think is worth taking a few minutes on. The Pittsburgh Steelers are of course 3-2 heading into their Week 6 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The narrative surrounding the team has revolved almost exclusively around the injuries to the offensive line, the line's inability to control the line of scrimmage, the high volume of turnovers on offense, the defense's inability to create takeaways, and the unexpected struggles of the defense stopping the run.
You know what's not been really talked about? The third phase of the game -- special teams. Now, before we get any further, let's get the negative stuff out of the way. The Steelers have had a field goal and a punt blocked this past two weeks -- not good. San Diego's inability to give Mike Scifres time to boot the ball in 2010 cost the Chargers in a huge way. It will do the same for the Steelers if Al Everest doesn't get that cleaned up. Outside of that though, the play of the Everest's special teams units has been quite good.
We'll get to the coverage teams soon enough, but for now, a quick shout out to Antonio Brown for the fine work he's done returning both kickoffs and punts so far this season.
Kickoff Returns: 8 , 31.6 average, 52 long, 7 returns of 20+ yards, 2 returns of 40+ yards.
Punt Returns: 11, 14.6 average, 41 long, 4 returns of 20+ yards
Amongst all kickoff returners, Antonio Brown ranks 9th in average yards per return. If you exclude three of the guys ahead of him who have only returned one kick, Brown ranks 6th in the NFL with his 31.6 average. It's easy to know then why Football Outsiders has Pittsburgh ranked as the 7th best kickoff return team in the NFL by their DVOA metric.
Brown coincidentally also ranks 9th with his 14.6 yards per punt return. His four returns of 20 or more yards though is bested only by Tedd Ginn.
Let's review how some of Brown's returns have impacted two of the Steelers three wins already:
- His 41 yard punt return near the end of the first quarter of Pittsburgh's Week 2 win over Seattle helped set up the second touchdown of the afternoon. Brown took the return from his own 6 yard line out to the 47 where Big Ben and the offense took over from there.
- His longest kickoff return of the season, a 52 yarder following the Titans impressive opening series that netted a field goal and an early 3-0 lead. Brown's big return infused life back into the Heinz Field faithful and set up an easy touchdown drive that got the Steelers going for good on the afternoon.
In conclusion, let's just say that it's only a matter of time before Brown takes one to the house for six. It might be this week, it might be eight weeks from now, who knows. But he's getting close and the spark he's providing in the return game has helped an offense that is still trying to establish its identity and be consistent on a week to week basis. With each passing game, I'm becoming more and more comfortable with my assessment of him as one of the best draft picks Kevin Colbert has on his resume.