View Full Version : Veterans line up to help kick-coverage woes

11-12-2007, 06:15 AM
Veterans line up to help as Cribbs' big day exposes Steelers' kick-coverage woes
Monday, November 12, 2007
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Brett Keisel said maybe it is time he comes out of retirement. James Farrior said he would volunteer to play on the kick-coverage team at the start of each half if necessary. Clark Haggans said he is ready, if needed, to play on the coverage units again, something he did at the start of his career.

Coach Mike Tomlin might have volunteers lining up outside his door this week, offering to help the Steelers' special teams. It might be as many players who appeared to have Cleveland kick returner Joshua Cribbs surrounded and trapped near the goal line yesterday at Heinz Field.

Only, in Tomlin's case, he might not let them get away.

"One thing is for certain: We stink as a kickoff coverage unit," Tomlin said.

Stink, though, does not begin to accurately describe the performance of the kick-coverage unit against the Browns, who found another way to lose their ninth consecutive game to the Steelers in a 31-28 defeat.

It was bad enough Cribbs had a 90-yard kickoff return in the first quarter that set up the Browns' second touchdown and gave them a 14-3 lead.

But, after the Steelers rallied from a 21-6 deficit to take a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter, Cribbs did it again, returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and seemingly draining the energy from the Steelers.

"We weren't helping at all," said linebacker Andre Frazier, the last player to touch Cribbs near the 16. "We were helping the Browns."

It was the way Cribbs scored that only exacerbated the problem and angered many of the Steelers players on the sideline, including nose tackle Casey Hampton.

Cribbs tried to field a squib kick at the 10, but he muffed the ball and had to run back to the goal line, near the pylon, to retrieve it. Four players, including Allen Rossum and cornerback Anthony Madison, closed in on Cribbs inside the 5, near the sideline.

"When he picks the ball up near the goal line, you got to kill him," said Keisel, a former special-teams terror.

Instead, the Steelers killed themselves, or so it appeared.

Cribbs somehow escaped along the sideline, shook off a tackle by Frazier at the 16, and ran untouched the remainder of the way for a touchdown.

"It was like when we played the Colts in that [2005] playoff game," said Haggans, referring to Jerome Bettis' fumble at the goal line that was nearly returned for a touchdown by Indianapolis cornerback Nick Harper. "A lot of wind goes out of your sails. You're like, 'Yeah, yeah,' one second, then, 'Oh, no; oh no.' "

But, like the playoff victory in Indianapolis, the Steelers survived this mighty scare as well, right down to a missed field-goal attempt in the waning seconds.

"When we played together, we called him little Vick," said linebacker James Harrison, a reference to former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Harrison and Cribbs, a converted quarterback, were teammates at Kent State. "He's fast, he's quick and he has great vision."

Great vision is not needed to see the problems with the Steelers' kick-coverage unit.

It was so bad Harrison, a special-teams co-captain, volunteered to play on the kick-coverage team after the Steelers took the lead with 3:13 remaining. Sure enough, Harrison, who has played sparingly on the coverage units the past two weeks, tripped up Cribbs and held him to six yards on the final return.

"We have to be honest with ourselves -- we need some work," Rossum said.


It might not be possible for a National Football League team to spend more time working on special teams than the Steelers, who employ two full-time assistant coaches to handle special teams. It began in training camp, when morning practices were devoted solely to special teams and assistant coach Bob Ligashesky used volleyballs, Hula Hoops and even footballs on a stick to work with the players. And it has continued through the regular season, even though there is not as much practice time to devote.

"Just imagine what it would look like had we not done that?" Tomlin said.

There were other problems as well. The Steelers had only 10 players on the field when the Browns quickly punted late in the fourth quarter, forcing Harrison to run on the field at the last minute. That caused Rossum, who said he was counting players, to refuse a fair catch and let the ball roll to the Steelers' 11.

But that is minor compared to the troubles the Steelers have had with their kick coverage.

In the past three games, the Steelers have allowed seven kick returns of 33 yards or longer -- four of 42 yards or longer. For the season, they have allowed six returns of 42 yards or longer, including four of 52 yards or longer.

"Maybe I got to come out of retirement," Keisel said.

Either that, or get out the Hula Hoops.

11-12-2007, 06:34 AM
Its really good to see or leaders step up and go to special teams. Lets hope we can put an end to this long return buisness.

11-12-2007, 07:03 AM
Ah, the players see what we fans seen. The Browns were handed gift points.

11-12-2007, 07:09 AM
Its really good to see or leaders step up and go to special teams.


Let's figure something out...Keisel was a beast on STs...