Pittsburgh Steelers’ Head Coach Mike Tomlin has been my personal punching bag on my than one occasion this season and while not all of it was deserved in some eyes, I have to believe the vast majority of Steelers’ Nation will agree with me in praising the Steelers’ boss.
Mike Tomlin finally got the hint. It’s one that far too many NFL and even college football coaches are far too proud to accept and that’s kicking the ball away from a returner. In two games this season, the Steelers’ dominated the Ravens but had to settle for a split of the season series because of a punt returned for a touchdown by the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones.
It was obvious that both in punting and kicking off that Tomlin wanted to make sure that his oft-maligned special teams’ unit would not be torched again thus blowing another strong performance by the defense. Both Shaun Suisham and punter Drew Butler did well respectively in kicking the ball away from Jones or high and into the sidelines limiting his opportunities. Yes, Butler had a bit of a brain fart which could have been disastrous when he muffed a snap and allowed his punt to be tipped, but otherwise he did well.
I have never understood why more college and pro teams cannot swallow their pride and directionally kick the ball more often or even just bang it out of bounds all together. I still to this day have nightmares of Troy Brown of New England returning that punt against us in the 2001 AFC Championship game. Brown entered the game as a hot returner and the Steelers’ Josh Miller had no reason to kick to him especially after he had just boomed one out of his own end zone well into New England territory. There was a penalty on Troy Edwards however backing Miller up even further and of course, Brown took the ensuing kick 55 yards for the score which turned out to be the difference in a seven-point loss.
The most common reason coaches don’t like to kick out of bounds is field position. Every yard on the 100-yard grid iron is crucial but when you have a defense playing as well as the Steelers’ has, Tomlin was making the right move. Punters and kickers are by nature a ‘delicate breed’ and the slightest miss-step can cause a shank where suddenly instead of flipping the field, the opponent has great field position.
Regardless of why Tomlin and his assistant special teams’ coach Amos Jones finally decided to play it smarter really isn’t the point. They did and that’s what matters. This team is already making enough mistakes with turnovers and giving up big returns would have been a death blow. Kudos to Tomlin and Jones for not just doing the right thing, but also doing the smart thing.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.