In the final installment of or three-part series grading the various units of the Pittsburgh Steelers through the first quarter of 2015, BTSC takes a look at the Steelers two-biggest areas of ridicule and concern...Special Teams and Coaching.
Special Teams: D+
The Field Goal unit has been cursed from the very start. After Shaun Suisham went for a tackle in the Hall of Fame Game, everything went off of a cliff. We just didn't know how deep the chasm.
When Suisham went out for the season, the Steelers acted quickly to replace the leg that ranks fourth on their all-time list with 124 field goals and first for a kicking percentage of 87.9%.
The replacement came in the form of Garrett Hartley. Despite not having enough leg to boot the ball through the back of the end zone on a consistent basis, Hartley was solid in preseason. He was perfect with four field goals, then a severe, right hamstring injury felled him.
Hartley's injury led to the trade of a conditional late-rounder to Jacksonville for the soon-to-be-much-maligned Josh Scobee. Scobee who was run out-of-town for going six-of-ten on field goal attempts, also missed an extra point against the 49ers. His misses were crucial and major contributors to the two losses in 2015.
With Scobee gone, the Steelers are unveiling their (an unheard of) fourth kicker of the season. Chris Boswell debuts against San Diego on Monday, and Steeler Nation is desperate for this grade to improve immediately.
Jordan Berry was so impressive in training camp that his presence forced the Steelers to trade the incumbent, Brad Wing, to the New York Giants.
Berry, who was working overnights at an Australian McDonalds, is now serving up punts instead of burgers. In four games, Berry has punted 15 times for an average of 44.3 yards-per-punt, with no touchbacks and six of them landing inside the 20. He ranks 20th in the league. While his punting average is slightly better than Wing's 29th-ranked average of 43.7 from a year ago, he still only ranks 20th in the league and his performance dipped a bit in the October wind and chill at Heinz Field.
Kick Returners: D+ or Incomplete
The Steelers have only returned three kicks in 2015, that is detrimental to the field position game. Steeler opponents have more than doubled that at seven. Dri Archer's 26.5 yars-per-return average would be good enough for sixth in the league, but that number is jaded due to the fact that everybody on the list has at least five returns and Archer has a mere two. Jordan Todman has the other return, his was 22 yards.
I admit that I was among those who were drinking the Dri Archer Kool-Aid for 2015, but it's obvious that he has hesitance to take the ball out of the end zone and his size makes him an easy tackle. It may be time to return Markus Wheaton to the role or give Todman more of a look-see.
Punt Returners: B+
The hope was to prevent injury and limit wear-and-tear on Antonio Brown and excuse him from his punt-return duties, but Archer was not able to step up and assume that role.
Brown, who is always a threat to take a punt to-the-house, has five returns and is averaging 14 yards-per-return with seven fair catches. (Steelers opponents are averaging 8.3 ypr and have six fair catches). Brown's return average earns him a ranking of sixth in the NFL. However, the players ranked No. 1- No. 4 all have touchdowns on punt returns in 2015.
With a .500 record, I thought an average grade was appropriate. There have been bright spots in coaching and poor decisions. As the head man, Mike Tomlin is responsible for the whole team and has veto power over decisions. Some units have improved dramatically, but some old sores continue to seep puss.
Poor clock-management and questionable play-calling on crucial downs late in the game against Baltimore were some key factors in the loss. This needs to improve going forward.
The following is a list of Steeler coaches and the grades assigned to them are based on the grades given to the units they oversee.
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin C
Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach:John Mitchell: A-
Defensive Coordinator: Keith Butler C+
Offensive Coordinator: Todd Haley B-
Special Teams Coordinator: Danny Smith D+
Tight Ends Coach: James Daniel C+
Quarterbacks Coach: Randy Fichtner B
Defensive Backs Coach: Carnell Lake C-
Wide Receivers Coach: Richard Mann B-
Offensive Line Coach: Mike Munchak B-
Inside Linebackers Coach: Jerry Olsavsky A-
Outside Linebackers Coach: Joey Porter C+
Running Backs Coach: James Saxon A+