Film Room: Special teams has good, and bad, surprises on Sunday

Welcome back to another edition of the Special Team Film Room, where today, we see what happened when the Steelers had to make an impromptu signing before Saturday’s 4pm deadline, to replace K Chris Boswell who showed up on the injury report the same morning.

Former Houston Texan… and New York Jet… and New York Giant, Randy Bullock, was brought in on short notice, and ended up accounting for 10 of the Steelers 24 points in a 24-14 win on Sunday.

Considering the up-and-down storyline of whether Bullock would sit or start, along with the recent memory of Josh Scobee screwing the Steelers over, having a reliable kicker is paramount. Entering a game where the Steelers had been thought to beat inferior competition, and were now hosting a red-hot Giants squad that won six straight, there was definitely concern that if Boswell couldn’t perform, hopefully (hopefully) Bullock could.

And for the most part, Bullock did alright.

His first kick of the night, wasn’t an easy one: a 44-yard field goal attempt into the notorious open-end of Heinz Field, on a windy afternoon no less.

The try was good, and the Steelers went up by a baseball score of 5-0 early.

Bullock’s next kick, however, put the special teams unit in a jackpot.

Wearing Michael Vick‘s old number 2, Bullock’s boot stopped short of the Giants endzone, at the 7 and into the hands of the dangerous return man Dwayne Harris.

Harris would bring the ball back to the Giants 29.

There’s been a strong debate of whether the “sky kick” is an effective strategy to use with the new 2016 rule moving touchbacks to the 25 (off of kickoffs). Analytics suggest the extra 5 yards (to the 25) give teams a small advantage, percentage-wise, in scoring off of drives that start from the 25 versus the 20.

Therefore kickers are attempting to let kicks hang, and fall short of the goal line, in an attempt to stop kicker returners short of the 25. Even a yard short is considered an analytical success.

Bullock, however, misses the mark, and the Giants get an advantage in their favor; which could’ve easily been a mistake on his part, having not kicked in a game for months.

Bullock wouldn’t get to try a PAT on the Steelers first touchdown, but he would nail a 34-yard field goal before the end of the half, that would put the Steelers up 14-0.

Bullock’s last attempt sealed the game for the Steelers, but it wasn’t pretty.

Once again kicking into the open-end of the stadium, Bullock would attempt a 38-yard field goal.

The ball sails, and hits an upright… but in.

The kick is good, and the Steelers are up 24-7, before Bullock hits another short kickoff.

This sky kick attempt was more of a line drive which lands at New York’s 10, and has little hang time for returner Bobby Rainey.

Rainey runs 38 yards and gets the Giants all the way up to midfield (on their own 48).

Six plays later, New York would put up 7 more points, and close the gap 24-14, which ended as the final.

Much of that final drive was due to the Steelers sticking with a prevent defense, but it’s important to note that the short, quick kick, and poor return coverage, set the defense up for failure. A better job will need done in future games, as special teams becomes even more of a focus this season, with many fans inquiring about whether special teams coach Danny Smith’s job is in jeopardy.

I don’t believe it is.

Like the offensive and defensive units, Smith has had to deal with injuries vacating spots on special teams. When a player is injured, say on defense, a player that contributes to special teams may suddenly become unavailable and need replaced. Combine this inconsistency with special team aces such as Darrius Heyward-Bey and Shamarko Thomas nursing injuries as well, and it’s easy to see why this unit has been, inconsistent.

Regardless, the “next man up” mentality must also apply to special teams. Considering the rush job to get Bullock in on a day’s notice, and the 10 points off his foot, I’m willing to give a play (or two) a pass.

Given the circumstances, the coaching may actually attribute to less of a liability, than more of a liability: stay tuned to see if this one game is a small sample size that should be disregarded!

 

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