Steelers, Seahawks Square Off In Week 2
PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown didn't need to verbalize the answer. It was written all over his face.
When asked if his eyes light up knowing, as the Pittsburgh Steelers' return man, he'll face a team on Sunday that allowed a kickoff and a punt return for touchdowns last week, his eyes, well, simply lit up.
"Definitely, man," Brown said.
Indeed, it's tough to not notice that the Seattle Seahawks (0-1) watched San Francisco's Ted Ginn take two returns for scores in the final four minutes of a 33-17 loss at San Francisco. There were holes, there were missed chances, and make no mistake, Ginn made some moves. But two returns in four minutes?
"It's like the standard has been set, and that gives you motivation to come out and meet that same standard," Brown said, "knowing they will, of course, make some changes. But knowing that we've still got an opportunity to make some big plays in an area where they may be lacking."
Coming off a listless performance offensively and defensively in a 35-7 season-opening loss to the rival Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers (0-1) could use the extra jolt on special teams.
Brown believes he and the team's return unit can provide it.
"Ginn's really good, he had some great blocks provided, and he made the right reads on his cuts," Brown said. "I think if I can make some good reads, I know my blockers will set really good, so I think we're going to have a real good opportunity this week."
Brown has emerged as the Steelers' go-to return man for punts and kickoffs in his second season. He had a 41-yard kickoff return on Sunday and a 51-yard return during the preseason. The first time he officially touched the ball as an NFL player, Brown had an 89-yard return for a touchdown in Week 2 last season.
As a receiver, Brown came on down the stretch and into the playoffs, and he was the Steelers' best at the position during this preseason, scoring three touchdowns and averaging 25.6 yards per catch.
"I think he's explosive," Steelers special teams coach Al Everest said, "and has the potential to be a big-time returner in this league."
Kind of like Ginn, who has six returns for touchdowns over four full seasons and one game. Everest said Ginn's kick return was an individual effort in which he took a broken play and outran everyone. The punt return was, according to Everest, more about execution.
Everest noted that two of the Seahawks' special teams players are injured, which hurt the unit. He also said that the kickoff coverage team was undisciplined in its lanes during the touchdown return, an assertion Seattle coach Pete Carroll agreed with.
"It was such a shock for us to break down like that," Carroll said. "It was almost unbelievable for us. So we are going to go back to the things we know how to do, and take care of business and try to eliminate the big bust that happened.
"I did note that the whole league had problems, and obviously we contributed to that. But I think it was the most returns in a week of NFL play in the history of the league. So, something is up, and we just have to make sure that it is not going to happen again on our end."
The NFL modified the kickoff rule in the offseason, moving the ball up five yards in an effort to limit the number of kickoff returns – a play deemed one of the most dangerous in the sport.
In Week 1, the number of touchbacks did, in fact, rise dramatically. But, perhaps surprisingly, there were three kickoffs returned for touchdowns. Also, there were five punts returned for scores. The eight combined return touchdowns set an NFL record for one week.
The three kickoff return touchdowns of at least 100 yards also tied an NFL record. This was only the second opening weekend in which there were three kickoffs returned for scores.
"I think what everybody figured out pretty quick is that if you don't (return the ball from the end zone), you've got no return," Everest said. "So, then you're conceding the ball to the 20. So, people started putting in different parameters (for how deep in the end zone to return from)."
Everest said Brown – as well as Emmanuel Sanders and Pittsburgh's other returners – have the freedom to return a kickoff into the end zone based on their evaluations of the situation in terms of hang time, depth in the end zone and whether they are under the ball rather than moving backward.
Everest also had an interesting take on the NFL moving the spot of the kickoffs. He theorizes it might actually increase potential injuries rather than decrease them.
"You've got more distance to build up speed," he said, "so it's becoming a faster play at impact.
"I don't know if they planned on it to be a touchback every play, basically eliminating (kickoffs as) a player safety issue. But I think what's happening is the reverse because now they're making impact and contact down at the 15-yard line instead of at the 25 or the 30. So, they're humming when they get down there."