Steelers' special teamers get chance at redemption against Jets
Steelers special teams captain Keyaron Fox has a message for those worried about the Jets' Brad Smith returning an opening kickoff for a touchdown.
"It won't happen again," he said.
Special teams coach Al Everest said this to those who think back a decade ago when New England scored a pair of special teams touchdowns in stunning the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game: "The bottom line is that you can't go forward looking back."
Neither Everest nor any Steelers special teamer plans to dwell on Smith's opening kickoff return at Heinz Field a month ago or even Lardarius Webb's punt return that set up the tying points late during last week's divisional playoff game against Baltimore.
"We will do the best that we can to help us win this game," Everest said. "We know what we did wrong (against the Jets), and now we have to get ready for the game Sunday night and go get it right."
Everest has done a pretty good job of getting it right since replacing Bob Ligashesky this season, a year after the Steelers allowed four kickoff returns for touchdowns in five games.
With veteran free agents like Arnaz Battle, Will Allen and Larry Foote, the Steelers' kickoff unit finished fifth in the NFL this season, allowing 20 yards per kick. Its only hiccup came against the Jets.
Still, Everest knows that wasn't good enough.
"If you go to rescue 20 hostages, and you save 18 and two get killed, they are going to kill you on the tube because ... you are as good as your worst play," Everest said.
The Steelers' worst play easily was Smith's kickoff return. It provided the Jets enough of an edge to steal a 22-17 win.
"We have to do a better job of being disruptive, slowing the guy down and beating blocks," Allen said. "It's a minor thing, but it is a major thing because it was the difference in the game."
Although the coverage units were playing well at the time, Everest felt the need to re-evaluate the kickoff unit.
"We definitely wanted to look at our coverage teams after that Jets game," Anthony Madison said. "So we changed some things on it."
After that game, Everest replaced rookie Crezdon Butler, whose first game was against the Jets, with Keenan Lewis. That lasted one week before he went back to Ike Taylor. Everest also inserted Foote for rookie Jason Worilds, who wasn't 100 percent.
The unit was good against the Browns in Week 17 but struggled last week, allowing a 38-yard kick return and 36-yard punt return while being flagged three times.
"You shoot for perfection," rookie Stevenson Sylvester said. "We haven't been perfect, but I think we had a pretty good year. Nothing really matters except for this game."
That goes for Smith's Week 15 performance against the Steelers and even what Webb did last week.
"They all know right now they have to do whatever they can because it is 60 minutes to Dallas," Everest said.Additional Information:
Here were the NFL's top kickoff units during the regular season:
1. Cleveland ? 17.8 yards per return
2. Washington ? 19.0
3. N.Y. Jets • 19.6
4. N.Y. Giants • 19.7
5. Steelers • 20.0
6. Kansas City ? 20.2
T7. Detroit • 20.7
T7. Tampa Bay ? 20.7
9. Atlanta • 21.3
10. Jacksonville ? 21.5