Thursday, January 10, 2008

Season in Review:
The Bob Ligashesky Edition

Added Note: Here is an excerpt of a report from the Associated Press/Yahoo! Sports on Mike Tomlin's final press conference of the 2007 season:

"As he watched film after being hired nearly a year ago, Tomlin said he realized losing special teams players such as Sean Morey, Mike Logan and Chidi Iwuoma would be a major setback. Also, linebacker James Harrison became a starter and didn't play as much on special teams.

"I wasn't interested in throwing up a red flag and saying, `Hey, I am worried about special teams,' but obviously I was," Tomlin said. "A special teams unit is comprised of four or five core guys. ... It would be the equivalent of losing seven, eight, nine starters on an offensive or defensive unit."

Kick coverage must improve next season, he said, but there "are not enough dynamic playmakers that you can build a core unit around
."


Original Post
People are looking for Bob Ligashesky.

Whether it's to simply find out more about the life and career of the Steelers' special teams coach, or something . . . less wholesome . . . we do not know. But given this recent spate of interest in the special teams and their coach we decided to jump them to the front of our "Season in Review" line. In this installment we are going to look at four phases of special teams -- average yards per punt return (i.e. by the Steelers), average yards allowed per punt return (i.e. against the Steelers), average yards per kick return, and average yards allowed per kick return.

Additionally, rather than comparing the Steelers' averages to the NFL averages -- thereby averaging an average -- we are comparing the Steelers' averages to the league's median performance in those same categories. As with our other season reviews we are also putting the numbers into a historical context by looking at eight years of performance (2000-2007). So, without further adieu, here's how average yards per punt return looks:


Clearly 2007 continued a discouraging trend that has been arrested only twice -- 2003 and 2005 -- by Antwaan Randle-El. But while the general performance of the punt return unit has been poor over the last eight seasons we see that the unit now finds itself decidedly in the lower half of punt return units in the league. Indeed, 2007 was the worst season if the eight we examined.

And while punt returns by the Steelers continued its long slide into mediocrity, punt coverage had its worst season since 2005:


Coming out of the 2006 season -- the Steelers' finest during this eight season period -- it may be said that there was no place to go but down (which, in our graph, is up), and that is precisely what happened. Indeed, while still better than the median, the difference was minimal.

Given the poor performance of the punt teams an "average" performance by the kicking teams would probably be welcome -- and it's exactly what the Steelers delivered. Here's a look at the kick return unit:


Other than a horrible 2001 season the performance of the Steelers' kick return team has almost exactly mirrored the overall trend within the league itself, though almost always performing slightly below the median.

And finally we have the kick coverage team -- the bane of every Steelers fan:


Since the 2003 season the Steelers' kick coverage unit has gotten progressively worse, allowing more yardage on each return every season -- and almost exactly mirroring what has occurred throughout the league.

These graphs pretty much confirm what all Steelers fans know -- that even on a good day, the Steelers' kick/punt return/coverage units have been no better than average for quite awhile. It's a phase of the game that, as we were witness to last Saturday (and as we've seen in games against New England and Cincinnati and, seemingly, countless others), can be a difference maker. There is little doubt that the coaches and players are trying to make plays on special teams. However, unless the team is prepared to use its starters on those units, Kevin Colbert has to do a better job of choosing players in the later rounds who, while they may not be every down players, can become contributors on special teams (in other words, no more Fred Gibson's in the fourth rounds of drafts).

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