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Steelers Special Teams Will Be Huge Factor To Beat Browns


There weren’t many facets of the game where the Pittsburgh Steelers were good in Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers. One area where the team struggled was special teams. They routinely gave the 49ers short fields with poor punting and punt coverage, and they weren’t able to create splash in the return game.

Cleaning those issues up is going to be extra important going forward, with key injuries on both sides of the ball. DL Cameron Heyward is out up to eight weeks, while WR Diontae Johnson is out at least for the Cleveland Browns game in Week Two and probably a little longer. Being able to create hidden yardage so the defense isn’t facing short fields and the offense doesn’t have to march 80+ yards to the end zone is going to be imperative for the Steelers going forward.

Calvin Austin III had a few long punt returns to set up scores in the preseason, including a 54-yarder in the team’s win over the Buffalo Bills and a 21-yarder in the third preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons. Austin can play a key role in helping this offense out if he can continue show some of that off in the regular season. One issue for Pittsburgh is the potential absence of kick returner Anthony McFarland Jr., who looked promising on Sunday. He’s been out of practice the last two days with a knee injury. If he’s out, someone else will need to step up.

On the other side of the ball, Pressley Harvin III has to be better. 34-yard and 28-yard punts to let the opponent start near midfield are inexcusable and simply shouldn’t be happening in his third year. He’s on thin ice, with the team working out punter Brad Wing Thursday, and the Steelers won’t hesitate to replace him if his struggles continue.

The one good punt he had, a 57-yarder, ended up not looking as good after a 15-yard facemask penalty against LS Christian Kuntz. So the Steelers also have to also be disciplined on coverage units and not negate the good they may get.

Without Heyward and Johnson, the Steelers are facing an uphill battle, especially with a 0-1 start. The offense and the defense will step it up after dreadful Week One performances, but to what degree now becomes the question. It’ll make things a whole lot easier for both units if special teams can improve too, and maybe even end up being a strength and a group that helps the Steelers steal some points.

If that becomes the case, the Steelers should be able to compete with the best of the AFC. Sunday was bad, and hopefully, it’s an anomaly. But if the offense and defense revert back to the groups we thought they could be before Week One and special teams can improve, the Steelers will be just fine.

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