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Upon Further Review: Broncos-Steelers Special Teams Preview

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey returns a kick-off against the Carolina Panthers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey returns a kick-off against the Carolina Panthers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

In previous years, I have put out "Upon Further Review," a look at the the Broncos upcoming opponent. It was a massive post that many of you might have found tedious to take in. It was decided that we should break this preview up into three separate posts. In this way, it will be more tolerable and reader-friendly. So when the Denver Broncos play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night in Denver, here’s what they will face on Special Teams.

Beyond the coverage unit and backup players that Special Teams Units are made of, is the Specialists. For the Steelers, they are:

  • Kicker - Sean Suisham
  • Punter - Drew Butler
  • Long Snapper - Greg Warren
  • Kick Returner - Chris Rainey
  • Punt Returner - Emmanuel Sanders.

Sean Suisham made it through another Training Camp even though he missed eight of his 31 Field Goal attempts during the 2011 season.

Greg Warren starts his 8th season, a record in Pittsburgh for Long Snappers.

The Kickers

Since both Suisham and Broncos Kicker Matt Prater held their positions from last year, we have an entire season’s worth of stats to compare. This is the breakdown.

Sean Suisham Matt Prater
Kickoffs 71 69
Touchbacks 27 47
Avg. Distance 68.7 69.1
Max Hang Time 4.40 4.60
Avg. Starting Position 21.6 Yard Line 20.3 Yard Line
Percent Returned 60.6 27.5
FIeld Goals 1-19 (%) 2-2 (100%) 0-0
20-29 (%) 8-8 (100%) 5-6 (83.3%)
30-39 (%) 6-8 (75%) 8-8 (100%)
40-49 (%) 6-11 (54.5%) 3-7 (42.9%)
50+ (%) 1-2 (50%) 3-4 (75%)
Total (%) 23-31 (74.2%) 19-25 (76%)

The results show that Matt Prater has a stronger leg even though he enjoys the altitude in Denver for 8 games a season. Prater leads the league in Touchbacks, which greatly assist the Kick coverage unit. If the opponent can’t return a Kickoff, he can’t score on the play.

The Punters

Pittsburgh Punter Drew Butler is a 6-1, 204 lb. rookie out of Georgia, so the only stats available on him are from the preseason. He beat out veteran Jeremy Kapinos, who was recovering from back surgery. Drew played in the last 3 preseason games and punted 22 times for an average of 45.0 and a Net average of 36.9 yards. 12 of those Punts were returned for a 9.75 yard average.

Bronco fans know that Britton Colquitt led or was near the top in most categories last season, but to be fair, let's compare how he did during the preseason, so the numbers will assimilate with Drew Butler's. There's no sense comparing apples to oranges is there.

In Britton's last three preseason games, he punted 17 times for a 48.2 average and a Net of 42.3 yards. 9 of those punts were returned an average of 9 yards.

Return Men

Last season, Antonio Brown returned 27 Kickoffs for a 27.3 average and 30 Punts for a 10.8 average and a touchdown. Since he is a Starter at Wide Receiver this year, the Steeler have relegated him to the 3rd option as their Returner.

Back ups Wide Receiver Emmanuel Sanders and Running Back Chris Rainey are slated to be the Kick and Punt Returners this season. Rainey is a speedster and has done most of the Return duties during the preseason, with 7 Punt Returns for an 8.7 average and 3 Kickoff Returns for a 22.0 yard average. Nothing to brag about there, but it is quite a small sample.

Did I say Rainey is a speedster? Here’s a bit more info on the rookie from Florida. Chris is a 5-8, 178 lb. player who is listed as a Running Back, but he is actually a 3rd down, change of pace, scat back type who will get used like Dexter McCluster or Darren Sproles. I’m not comparing him to either one here, just trying to define a role.

Rainey had the 2nd fastest 40 Time at the 2012 Combine at 4.45 seconds. Combine that with a 3.93 20 Yard Shuttle Time and he has an outstanding Lateral Agility Score of .52 (.50 is terrific). To say this guy is explosive would be an understatement, since he was a world-class sprinter for Florida's track and field team and an All-American 4x100 meter relay sprinter in 2008.

The Broncos have had a Rotisserie at the Return position trying to find a better option than to use Eric Decker, since he too is a Starting Wide Receiver. They finally settled on veteran Safety Jim Leonhard as the Punt Returner and rookie Cornerback Omar Bolden at Kick Returner. Omar had an impressive 103 yard touchdown on a Kick Return last week in Arizona against the Cardinals. We’ll see how the rookie progresses, but he sure brought some excitement to Broncos Country with that runback.

In conclusion, the smart move would be to make sure Matt Prater continues to rack up touchbacks, keeping the ball out of Chris Rainey’s hands and thus preventing a long return. Field position is an important asset to control in any contest.

Go Broncos!

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