Through two games, the Pittsburgh Steelers special teams play has been exceptional. The kick coverage and return teams have done their jobs better than in years past.
Through the last few seasons, the special teams unit has not been the greatest strength of the Pittsburgh Steelers to put it lightly. A goal of the off-season was to change that narrative in 2017.
Many times, teams fill their special teams units with rookies and young players looking to make the team any way they can. Veterans also inhabit the underappreciated unit from time to time.
The key is to find the best mix of youth and veteran leadership to form a good special teams unit. The Pittsburgh Steelers have done just that in 2017 to create a unit that has done everything asked of them this far.
The unit exploded on the scene week one in Cleveland when the Browns went three and out. In comes the Steelers punt return squad and second-year linebacker Tyler Matakevich.
Matakevich burst through the line of scrimmage attacking the punter and blocking the punt with a dive. Fellow second-year player Anthony Chickillo fell on the ball in the end-zone for the score.
Both of these young linebackers got their roster spots due to special teams capabilities their rookie seasons. They continue to make plays on special teams while also moving up the Steelers depth chart at their defensive positions.
In week two, Tyler Matakevich again made a play as part of the punt return team. On a fourth down play, Minnesota elected to run a fake punt pass.
This turned out to be a bad decision as they would not convert. Vikings punter Ryan Quigley pulled up to attempt a pass on the play and got annihilated by Mike Hilton, another young impact player.
Even as he got hit, Quigley released the ball, and it sailed toward his intended target. In comes Tyler Matakevich to deflect the pass and forcing the turn over on downs.
The return team was not the only unit to get into the action. The punt coverage team also put their mark on the game.
Jordan Berry came on the field to punt the ball five times against the Vikings with two inside the 20-yard line, and only one returned. That is because of the Steelers coverage swarming the returner all day.
Pittsburgh also had another young standout make an impact on Sunday. Rookie fifth-round pick Brian Allen served as a gunner on a punt in the third quarter.
After a penalty knocked Pittsburgh out of field goal range, they were forced to punt. Brian Allen flew down field from his gunner position to down the ball inside the one-yard-line and pin the Vikings 99 and one-half yards away from the end-zone.
All in all, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ special teams have done a tremendous job through the first two games. The team can only hope the unit continues to mesh and keep making plays to aid the offense and defense in winning ball games.