Steelers Separate with Special Teams

The Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 35-7, to push two games ahead of the Bengals in the AFC North Division. The Steelers remain tied with the Baltimore Ravens at 9-3.

PITTSBURGH – The Steelers' 35-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals was ignited by special teams, furthered by special teams, and finished by special teams.

But with their day in the sun, the particulars of these brilliant special teams kept their explanations short and simple.

"I just put my hand up," said Cameron Heyward.

"I just stuck my arm out," said Sylvester Stevenson.

"Just being solid," said Jeremy Kapinos.

"Great block," said Antonio Brown.

But there had to be some great coaching, some great scheme behind it all, particularly Brown's punt return for a touchdown, wasn't there?

"Every man was blocking a man," said special teams coordinator Al Everest. "That's the scheme."

And that was the ball game. Sometimes it really is that simple.

The Steelers appeared to be in need of a blast from their special teams Sunday against the Bengals, and they got several.

After the offense gained zero yards in three plays on its first series, the defense was being moved seemingly at will during the Bengals' first possession.

The Bengals drove 59 yards to the Steelers' 4, and even put the ball in the end zone on a short pass to Jermaine Gresham. But the touchdown was nullified by a false start, so the Bengals lined up for a short field goal, and were flagged for a delay of game.

That's when Everest changed his call. He put on a block for Heyward, his 6-foot-5 rookie lineman. As schemed, Heyward came free, put his hand up and blocked it.

"I didn't even know where the ball was," said Heyward. "I was just happy we got it."

It ultimately led to a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown, that was followed by another Mendenhall touchdown, that was followed by another key play by the Steelers' special teams.

With a 14-0 lead, Stevenson Sylvester forced a fumble on a Brandon Tate kickoff return that was recovered by Emmanuel Sanders at the Cincinnati 23. Three plays later, the Steelers had a 21-0 lead.

"I grabbed his arm," said Sylvester. "I didn't even grab the ball. I jarred his arm and the ball came out."

The Bengals rallied with a touchdown that cut the Steelers' lead to 21-7 as halftime crept close.

Could the Bengals make a run at their sixth come-from-behind win this season?

Antonio Brown said no. He returned a punt 60 yards for the backbreaking touchdown. With 1:16 left in the first half, the Steelers had a 28-7 lead.

Brown credited the aforementioned "great block," as well as the "middle return" Everest had called – as he does routinely anymore for Brown.

"He's going to go anywhere he wants to go anyway so we might as well block it up that way," reasoned Everest.

"Bryant McFadden set the edge," Brown of the key block. "And once I got around the edge it was pretty much done."

Did Brown see the block in the back by teammate Curtis Brown that appeared to spring Antonio at the start of his return?

"The illegal block?" Antonio asked. "No, but I heard about it when I got to the sideline."

"I ain't feeling bad about it," said Everest. "We get plenty of them that we don't deserve."

If called, it would've been the only mistake Curtis Brown made all day. The rookie from Texas made two tackles to add to his team-leading total of 12 this season.

"He's awesome," Everest said of Curtis Brown. "He's done a great job. He's a fierce competitor. He's as competitive a person as I've been around in a long time. He's going to be fine in our defense, too. You bet. Guys like that are hard to find."

Kapinos, the punter, also had a great day. He averaged 54.2 yards per punt with an average net of 43.4. But his long of 59 left him a yard short of his goal.

"I haven't had a 60-yarder in my career yet," Kapinos said. "I've had four or five 59-yarders, so I told Greg [Warren] to scoot the ball up or something next time. But the coverage team was just outstanding today."

The coverage team was outstanding. So were the kicking team, the punting team, and the return teams. Special might aptly describe those teams as well.


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