Steelers Need to Activate Worilds Against Jets to Boost Special Teams

Over the past 20 years, the Steelers have had the best defense in the NFL and have been the most consistently successful squad over that span, making their eighth trip to the AFC Championship game in the past 17 years this Sunday against the visiting New York Jets.

Unfortunately, the past 20 years for Steelers fans have also been marred by some of the worst kickoff and punt coverage units in the NFL, which have kept the Steelers from winning more than their league-high six Super Bowls (see 2001) and have also been a primary culprit when Pittsburgh just missed making the playoffs (see 2006 and 2009) despite having very talented squads.

While Pittsburgh’s special-teams coverage units have been considerably better than 2009 when the Steelers set a modern-era NFL record in yielding five kickoff returns for touchdowns, those units have become shakier as this season has progressed.

The Steelers were clearly the superior team in a 22-17 home loss to the Jets in week 15, outgaining the Jets by 101 yards. However, they lost largely due to a 97-yard, game-opening kickoff TD return to Brad Smith.

In last week’s 31-24 win over the Ravens in the divisional round, the Steelers more than doubled the Ravens in total yards (263-126) and won the turnover battle (3-2). Still, the Steelers almost lost due to special teams breakdowns and may well have lost if not for a great acting job by Will Allen on a slight hold that wiped off a 55-yard punt return for a TD by Lardarius Webb that would have put the Ravens ahead 28-24 with just over six minutes remaining.

Steelers’ special teams were awful throughout that game. Webb returned the opening kickoff for 52 yards; Pittsburgh had penalties on two of its first four kick or punt returns, putting the offense in poor field position; and the Steelers also had two penalties on punt coverage, one of which negated Keenan Lewis downing a Jason Kapinos punt at the Baltimore 1.

While I am concerned about the Steelers’ offensive line protecting Ben Roethlisberger long enough for Pittsburgh’s receivers to get separation from New York’s awesome cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, I feel confident about how the Steelers match up with the Jets, primarily due to the presence of Roethlisberger.

However, I have seen the Steelers lose too many key games they should have won due to special teams over the years. So how do they fix these constant problems? Well, since the front office is opposed to keeping a kickoff specialist on the roster despite having a gunner who can’t play cornerback in Anthony Madison on the roster, one remedy is to get your best athletes on kick coverage.

One of those players this year has been rookie Jason Worilds. While Pittsburgh had more pressing needs than deep depth at linebacker in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Worilds was a key addition to improved kick coverage early in the year, thanks largely due to his 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash.

But Worilds has been inactive on the Steelers’ 45-player game-day roster each of the last three games, so that Pittsburgh could dress six receivers, including Antwaan Randle El.

Now, I love Randle El and bringing him back was a wise move for depth and leadership. But he is now the Steelers’ No. 5 wide receiver, with No. 6 wideout Aranz Battle a key contributor on nearly every special-teams unit.

In contrast, Randle El is primarily used for a gadget play or two each game, occasionally sees spot duty at receiver, and is the safety valve punt returner when Pittsburgh is near its own goal line despite having questionable hands on punt returns and Mewelde Moore better suited for those duties.

I understand the Steelers wanting Randle El’s veteran, playoff experience on the dress roster for last week’s game against the Ravens. After all, No, 1 receiver Mike Wallace was in his first playoff game, and No. 3 and No. 4 receivers, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, are rookies.

Wallace, however, has not come across as nervous in two years with the Steelers, and tallied 1,257 receiving yards and 10 TDs this season. Sanders, meanwhile, led all Steelers wideouts with four receptions against the Ravens, while Brown had three catches for a team-high 75 yards, including a 58-yard ear catch that set up the game-wining TD.

In other words, these rookies did not look nervous at all, showing that the Steelers would be best served dressing Worilds for kick coverage than Randle El. Ideally, the Steelers could inactivate Keenan Lewis instead, since he is primarily noticed just for making stupid penalties on special teams

Plus, Lewis must still be pretty bad at corner if defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau elected to play the physically limited Anthony Madison all game against the Ravens at nickel back after starting corner Bryant McFadden left after the first series of the game with an injury.

However, assuming the Steelers will dress McFadden again this Sunday (and they will), Lewis has to dress in case McFadden departs early again with an injury, which is now becoming a common occurrence.

Of course, if the Steelers dress defensive linemen Aaron Smith, they cannot then deactivate Nick Eason for the same reason they cannot deactivate Lewis (one play away from being short-handed at the position, since Pittsburgh only dressed five defensive linemen last week with Smith still sidelined due to injury). In that case, both Worilds and Randle El would most likely not be active, and the Steelers would again not have their best athletes on kick coverage.

This is just one of the many reasons why the NFL allowing teams to keep 53 players on its active roster with full pay but only dress 45 on game days is an insanely dumb rule.

This entry was posted in 2010 steelers, Postseason, Special Teams, Wide Recievers and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Ted

    Even if Smith dresses, Worilds can still dress if the Steelers decide to de-activate Randle El and Will Allen, who was injured last week and should be de-activated if he is not near 100%, because Ryan Mundy is the team’s No. 3 safety.

    Thus the inactive list would be Batch (No. 3 QB), Dwyer, Randle El, Hills, C. Scott, McLendon, Butler, Allen or Lewis.

  • Cols714

    Eh, whatever. The ST has suffered since their new kicker cannot kick the ball high and deep and their new punter doesn’t get the same hang time that Sepulveda did. Before that they were having a pretty good season. I don’t think activating Worilds will matter at all. They are just going to have to keep squibbing and praying on punts. And enough already with bitching about the 2nd round pick. They drafted Worilds, he’s looked good. You don’t like it, we know, but you don’t have to mention it in every post.

    • steelersfan

      I agree with you and the kicking game is really bad in pittsburgh from a field position point of view while the new kicker seems decent enough at getting it through the uprights there is a lot more needed and the punter is miserable at pinning the opponent inside the 20 it always ends up in the endzone and back out to the 20.

  • Ian

    Worlids has been hurt since Week 16 against Carolina when he hurt his knee covering a kick in the 4th quarter. He was listed on the Week 17 injury report. He wasn’t on the injury report this past week, but I would bet he was held out of the lineup more because of lingering effects of the knee injury than because they had a desire to activate someone else. Worlids has been in the lineup for any game he’s been healthy.

  • GlennW

    Worilds left the Carolina game with a knee injury and did not dress in the Cleveland game. A lingering physical ailment could be part of the equation here.

    > “This is just one of the many reasons why the NFL allowing teams to keep 53 players on its active roster with full pay but only dress 45 on game days is an insanely dumb rule.”

    I disagree with this opinion or at least think it overstated. Tough gameday roster decisions and the tradeoffs and limitations around them are part of the game, and arguably make the game slightly more interesting (the entire discussion here around what the Steelers should do with their 45-man with regard to A. Smith, Worilds, Randle El is some evidence of this). Be it 45, 46 or 47 men (the precise number is somewhat arbitrary) there are always going to be tough decisions as to how to best align your available talent to the opponent and vice-versa. But personally I think a 53-man active roster would be too large– some inherent imperfection and adjustment to limitations is not a bad thing. You can’t have it all, a precise specialist for each and every role, and I’m fine with that.

  • steelerfan

    As good as the steelers defense is they should make the investment no matter the cost or inconvenience to have a kickoff specialist that can kick it out of the endzone and make the other team go 80 yards every single time they score and kickoff.

    I cringe everytime the steelers kickoff because the opponent always get out to the 30 or 35 sometimes more and the defense is always up against it.

    I don’t think they could lose if the opponent had to drive 80 yards everytime they touch the ball and I am surprised they haven’t done something about it there are guys out there that kick it out of the endzone everytime they kick just look around a guy named massimo scaaccia was on youtube kicking it out of the endzone every kick and sanfrancisco grabbed the guy up.

  • steelerfan

    Worilds is still a young guy with potential even though I would have liked to see them sturdy up the offensive line and secondary but a kickoff specialist makes sense in pittsburgh more than any other team in the NFL since defense is always #1 in steeler country.

    A good defense with a questionable secondary can’t play a short field forever without tiring or failing so get a guy that can kick it out of the endzone make the other team go 80 yards and get a punter that can pin the other team down without it going into the endzone everytime it’s sad really.

  • oldtimer

    I have to agree with steelerfan about the kickoff specialist.

    Steelers fan since 1972…

  • steelerfan

    There are quite a few kickers availabe that are long kickers and that scaccia guy kicks it through the uprights from the 30 yardline just about everytime he kicks it but it’s always a touchback and that would solve their special teams woes. Well except for the punting portion of it.

    • terriblerob

      I never thought about a dedicated kickoff specialist but that would make way too much sense lol……. I always wonder why the punters on other teams pin the opponent deep inside the 5 yard line but the steeler punter never does that.

  • Steelerfan

    Coach Tomlin if you are listening get a guy that can kick it out the other endzone and your special teams woes are all over and you can free up some talent for other positions.

    Steelers 24 Jets17 AFC championship

  • Ted

    Update from Wex, Worilds is fully healthy and expects to play this week. We should be able to find spots for both him and Randle El, since Smith is doubtful, it is looking more likely that Allen may not play, and McFadden may not even dress.

  • BlackJack58

    I totally agree about hiring a kickoff specialist and have been saying that for years. No return = No TD. Simple. Special teams have been a liability for many teams this year. Strange that the Steelers front office is opposed to a specialist. Seems like paying one good guy would be cheaper than what it has cost the team in field position advantages and touchdowns/filed goals and ultimately games. If we lose to the Jets this Sunday it will likely be due to poor special team performance. I feel that’s a bigger weakness for us now than the OL.

  • Blituzm

    BMac looking like a scratch and Aaron Smith is out so ARE and Worilds will likely play