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mesaSteeler
11-17-2009, 07:55 PM
Bires: Special teams in mysterious haze
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By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
http://www.timesonline.com/sports/sports_details/article/1424/2009/november/17/bires-special-teams-in-mysterious-haze.html
Tuesday November 17, 2009 12:12 AM

PITTSBURGH — The downfall of the Steelers’ kickoff coverage team is quite a mystery.

In three of their last four games, opposing return specialists have gashed the Steelers for touchdowns.

If not for Bernard Scott’s 96-yard run this past Sunday, the Steelers and Cincinnati would have probably kept exchanging field goals until someone won in overtime.

But in the Bengals’ 18-12 win, Scott’s TD — the only touchdown of the game — was the play of the game.

“We’ve got to rectify it,” wide receiver Hines Ward said of breakdowns by the kickoff coverage team. “We’ve got to get guys out there inspired to play.”

“It’s definitely something that has to be addressed,” added defensive Brett Keisel, who was a special teams phenom in his first few years with the Steelers. “We can’t have this happening week in and week out.

“Special teams is all about desire … the desire to want to. You want to get down there and make the play.”

From a personnel perspective, coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t seem to have many options.

Here’s who was on the field when Scott scored: linebackers Keyaron Fox, Andre Frazier, Arnold Harrison and Patrick Bailey; defensive backs Ike Taylor, William Gay, Ryan Mundy, Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis; wide receiver/kick returner Stefan Logan; and kicker Jeff Reed.

When Lewis got hurt in the second half with a rib injury, he was replaced by Tyrone Carter, who was playing strong safety with the first-team defense after Troy Polamalu re-injured his knee.

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons has covered kickoffs at times this year. But he wasn’t used Sunday, possibly because he was coming off an ankle injury.
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Last year, outside linebacker James Harrison covered kicks on occasion and was third on the team in solo special teams tackles. It seems a risk to have such a valuable member of the defense chasing kick returners.

Then again, Harrison always volunteers for special teams duty, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

Also missing on the kickoff coverage team this year is cornerback Anthony Madison, who led the Steelers in special teams tackles last year. The Steelers released Madison Sept. 5 in their final preseason roster cut in favor of keeping veteran cornerback Keiwan Ratliff and the two rookie corners (Burnett and Lewis).

A few of the Steelers’ veteran special teams contributors weren’t happy when Madison was cut.

It definitely was a mistake to release Madison and keep Ratliff, who has done little to warrant a roster spot. Ratliff wasn’t even in uniform Sunday.

But don’t feel too sorry for Madison. After playing a few games with Cleveland, he was cut by the Browns and picked up by the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts.

Of course, it would help if Reed could at least provide some resistance as the last line of defense. It’s probably unfair to ask a kicker to make a tackle. But if Reed would have just made an attempt to slow down Scott, one of the Steelers would have caught him.

To be sure, something has to be done now to fix this problem.

It may take Harrison’s presence to restore pride and accountability on the kickoff coverage team.

Mike Bires can be reached online at mbires@timesonline.com.