By Teresa Varley
Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said he will "turn over every stone" in an effort to improve the team's kickoff coverage after they allowed their third return for a touchdown this season when they played the Bengals. The 96-yard return by Bernard Scott was the difference maker in an 18-12 loss at Heinz Field.
"I think when you're experiencing the same kind of difficulty that we are in that area, you better turn over every stone," said Tomlin. "We're looking at schematics, and potentially make some changes in that area to increase our chances of performing above the line in that area, looking at moving some people around, putting so me new people in position to play. We brought Donovan Woods up from the practice squad, and he's going to have an opportunity to run down the middle of that unit and see if he can bring some energy to the group. But it's not just about the addition of a Donovan Woods. Donovan Woods is not all of a sudden going to make us the most dynamic kickoff coverage team in the NFL.
"Its detail, it's about shedding blocks and making tackles and being schematically sound. We're in the process of looking at all elements of that unit."
According to Tomlin there isn't one underlying theme in the three touchdown returns, which could make it an easier fix. Instead it's something that is even perplexing to him.
"They're all head-scratchers," said Tomlin. "But you can just say it's an epiphany, you can say 'Wow, that's an interesting play.' But I don't choose to have that response. I look at it scientifically, if you will; that for those things to happen there must be other elements at work where we're falling short. That's why were working to make the necessary corrections.
"Very rarely do you see a guy run a kick back in the nature in which that kick was run back the other day. The ball was put in the corner, he started to the field. He stuck his foot in the ground and came to a complete stop and then re-directed, went vertical, and continued in the direction in which he initially started. Usually, when a kick returner comes to a stop, the play is usually dead. It wasn't in that instance, so we have some work to do."
After the game Scott said that it was a bad kickoff by kicker Jeff Reed that could have led to allowing his return to work, but that wasn't something Tomlin was pointing to.
"We have to do a better job covering," said Tomlin. "I like the position and the location of that kick, to be honest with you. When you can pin somebody down in the corner and converge on the ball, you usually feel pretty good about it."
Tomlin said that directing Reed where to kick the ball is something that isn't a given, but based on a number of factors.
"It really just depends on game circumstance; field conditions, weather, wind, the nature of the return schemes that we're seeing-a lot of things go into that decision making," said Tomlin. "And not only on a game-by-game basis, but on a kick-by-kick basis."