Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Season in Review: The Return Units (2008)

As previously promised we now offer the second posting regarding the Steelers' special teams. Specifically we turn our attention to the kick and punt return units; and it should come as no surprise to anyone that the numbers for those two units are exceedingly poor.

For the kick return unit, their 20.3 average for each return of the 2008 regular season was the fourth lowest in the NFL (Baltimore averaged 20.1 yards per return, as did Green Bay, and Miami averaged 20.2 yards per return) and was the second lowest for a Super Bowl champion in the past nine seasons. Here is a ranking of the Super Bowl winners by kick return average for the seasons 2000-2008:

SeasonTeamKick Return Avg.
2002Tampa Bay24.1
2007N.Y. Giants23.9
2003New England23.8
2004New England23.3
2001New England20.1

If there is any consolation to be taken from this is that winning the Super Bowl does not appear to be directly tied to performance in kick returns. However, there is no arguing with the fact that every yard gained on a kick return is one fewer yard the offense needs. By that logic the Steelers are making things tough on their offense.

As for the punt return unit, for the sixth time in the past nine seasons Pittsburgh's punt return unit performed below the NFL average ~ though this season the disparity was minimal (i.e. 9.08 v. 9.05). Here is a graphical look:

As frustrating as the punt return team was in 2008 ("get up the field Santonio!") their performance was nearly three yards better than in 2007 (6.1. yards), and at least began approaching the excellent performance turned in by Antwaan Randle-El and his compatriots in 2005 (10.2 yards per return).

In the overall scheme of things the Pittsburgh special teams showed marked improvement in 2008, at least compared with the 2007 season. However, as with most aspects of football, there is still tremendous opportunity for improvement.

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