Thursday, February 19, 2009

Season in Review: The Coverage Units (2008)

Now we turn our attention to the an area of play about which we care inordinately ~ Special teams. In the first of two installments we examine the effectiveness of the kick and punt coverage units, both in relation to the league overall as well as within the historical context of previous editions of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

We will begin with the kick coverage unit; and bolstered by the play of rookie Patrick Bailey, free agent acquisition Keyaron Fox, Pro Bowl caliber Special Teamer Anthony Madison, and a host of others the Steelers had the best season in the past nine seasons, and 3.5 yards better than the 2007 season. Here are the Steelers' kick coverage numbers for 2000-2008:



Whereas the Steelers' 2008 defense could not beat their 2001 predecessor in nearly any statistical category, this past season's kick coverage unit has set the standard for the decade with a dramatic, and rather unexpected improvement. With Keyaron Fox a free agent the question is whether or not Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert has the wherewithal to re-sign an impactful but one-dimensional player.

Of course all of this talk is beside the point if, despite improvement, the Steelers have underperformed against the league. Here is a look at that:

So there it is ~ after eight years of relatively average performance the Steelers' kick coverage unit had a breakthrough season. So, what do they do for an encore?

As for punt coverage, the news good if not quite so spectacularly so. Here are the Steelers' numbers for the past nine seasons:



The 2008 punt coverage unit had the third best season in the past nine; and last season was a significant improvement over the previous one. As for how the 2008 group compared to others in the NFL, here is that information:

The see-sawing from on season to the next continued in 2008; and the question now becomes whether the improvement of the past season will be in evidence in 2009. But you might wonder just how much better can the Steelers be in this area ~ after all they had the fourth best punt coverage in the league this past season. Well, Atlanta had the #1 punt coverage unit, which gave up an average of 2.5 yards per opposition punt return.

Clearly, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

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