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Allen knows coverage must be 'special'

The Steelers haven't had as many happy returns this season as they'd prefer, but the special teams arrow is still pointing up.

And that's as it needs to be heading into Atlanta.

Fresh from fending off a significant challenge in Cincinnati in the form of Adam Jones, the coverage units must embrace an even more challenging assignment against the Falcons, because of the presence of Devin Hester.

"That was one of the keys to the game," veteran safety and special-teams contributor Will Allen observed regarding last Sunday's 42-21 win over the Bengals. "We needed to stop the hidden yardage."

The Bengals hosted the Steelers with some attention-getting special-teams designations that included being ranked No. 1 in opponents' net punting average, No. 2 in net punting average and No. 3 in opponents' punt return average.

But the Steelers refused to allow the Bengals to flip the field consistently on special teams. Even defensive end Cam Heyward noticed.

"Our punting game was pretty good," he said.

"We even got the ball on a fake punt," Allen said. "I think our guys came out with a plan. (Special teams coordinator) Danny Smith got us all motivated and ready. He prepared us for the attack and what we needed to do."

The fake punt was snuffed out at the conclusion of the Bengals' first possession, on a fourth-and-3 from the Steelers' 40-yard line. The Steelers had their normal punt-return team on the field rather than the defense, "but Coach Danny always prepares us for situations,"  Allen said.

"I like to think of him as a master of situations when it comes to special teams. He prepared guys, everybody was ready for it. He motivates us every week, but this one was a little different because of how highly they were ranked, how well they execute. We knew it was a huge challenge for our team."

The Steelers' special teams will be in for more of the same in Atlanta.

Hester's 62-yard punt return for a touchdown on Sept. 18 against Tampa Bay was his NFL-record 20th career return for a score (Deion Sanders had 19). For his career, Hester has returned 14 punts, five kickoffs and one missed field goal for touchdowns (he returned a missed field goal 75 yards to the Cleveland 31-yard line  on Nov. 23 before being dropped on a touchdown-saving tackle by guard Joel Bitonio).

Hester is averaging 15.4 yards per punt return and 24.1 yards per kickoff return this season.

"He is a legendary return man," Coach Mike Tomlin assessed. "He has earned that reputation. He has even earned that reputation as of late. He is a special player. We have to work to minimize him. We can't let our ego get the best of us.

"We have a lot of work in that regard from a kick-coverage standpoint."

Allen agreed.

"We got to keep doing it week in and week out," he said. "We can't get a great win (in Cincinnati) and be satisfied. We have three more bumps in the road."

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