It's a not-so-special season for Steelers in kick coverage Print
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Tuesday, 13 November 2007 12:33
NFL Headline News

 PITTSBURGH (AP) -The Pittsburgh Steelers are 7-2, the third time in four seasons their record has been that good or better through nine games. Next up on their schedule are the Jets and Dolphins, who own exactly one victory between them.
The Steelers' offense is more multidimensional than it has been in years. They have three productive receivers (Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller), a breakaway runner in Willie Parker and a quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who is enjoying a turnaround season with 22 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions.
Defensively, the Steelers are No. 1 in yards and points allowed, giving up 40 yards per game fewer than any other NFL team.
For all that has gone right in coach Mike Tomlin's first season, the Steelers still have a problem that has dogged them for years: special teams. Specifically, they're having trouble on kickoffs and punts, an area that repeatedly reared its ugly head during the Bill Cowher era.
There's nothing wrong with Jeff Reed's kicking or rookie Daniel Sepulveda's punting. Reed is 14-of-15 in field goals and the only miss was a let's-take-a-chance-on-it 65-yarder to end the first half in Denver. Sepulveda is averaging 44 yards and has placed 17 of 38 punts inside the 20.
Converting kicks is a lot different from covering them or returning them, and that's where the Steelers are near the bottom.
``I'm not happy with much of anything right now. We've got to do a better job in a lot of areas,'' Tomlin said Tuesday.
The Steelers nearly lost Sunday despite outgaining Cleveland 401-163, mostly because Josh Cribbs had a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown and a 90-yarder that led to another touchdown during Pittsburgh's 31-28 victory.
``One thing is for certain: We stink on kickoff coverage,'' Tomlin said.
Cribbs' big day dropped the Steelers to 27th in kickoff return coverage (26.0 yards). They are not much better in punt return coverage, ranking 23rd (10.5 yards, with another touchdown).
Likewise, the Steelers aren't having much success with their own returns, despite adding former Pro Bowl returner Allen Rossum, who had a 98-yard TD on a kickoff return Sept. 23 against San Francisco. They are third from the bottom in punt returns with a 6.5 average.
Interestingly, Steelers special teams coach Bob Ligashesky is no stranger to this situation. He was let go by St. Louis earlier this year following two seasons there with similar problems.
The Rams finished near the bottom last season in punt returns, kickoff returns and kickoff coverage and yielded three return touchdowns. In a performance much like Cribbs' on Sunday, the Bears' Devin Hester had two kickoff return scores against the Rams last Dec. 11.
M partly because of two botched extra points. The Panthers twice lined up in a gimmicky formation that was illegal.
Following Cribbs' returns on Sunday, Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who has forced five fumbles on defense and special teams the last two weeks, voluntarily jumped onto the kickoff return coverage. Harrison suggested more regulars might join him.
``He recognized the gravity of the situation,'' Tomlin said. ``We needed assistance.''
However, Tomlin won't make major changes because he doesn't believe that is the proper way to correct a problem.
``We're not doing real well right now, but the answers are probably in front of us. And the adjustments are probably minor,'' Tomlin said. ``I think everybody knows we need to get better in that area.''
The Steelers will be challenged Sunday by the Jets' Leon Washington, who leads the league averaging 33.5 yards on kickoff returns, including three for touchdowns.
``The football gods are always kind to you. When you're struggling in an area, we get presented with the opportunity to defend against the best guy in the world at returning kicks right now,'' Tomlin said. ``This game is about challenges and about responding, and I look forward to see what we're willing to do in that area this week.''
Notes: Tomlin isn't convinced Browns WR Braylon Edwards got both feet inbounds during his touchdown catch Sunday. Edwards was initially ruled out of bounds, but the call was overturned on replay. ... Tomlin isn't considering using Holmes as a punt returner. ... TE Jeramy Tuman (back) and S Ryan Clark (spleen) are expected to miss the Jets game. LB Andre Frazier (groin) will be questionable on the initial injury report, as will LB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring).

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