Overreaction? Steelers Replace Scobee

A surprised Jim Wexell wonders if the signing of Chris Boswell is an overreaction to the loss to the Ravens.

I'm surprised this afternoon that the Pittsburgh Steelers have signed kicker Chris Boswell and released Josh Scobee.

My surprise has nothing to do with anything I know or don't know about Boswell. He made 13 50-plus-yard kicks at Rice, so he obviously has a strong leg. He made 72 percent of his college kicks and drew NFL interest from the Houston Texans in 2014 and the New York Giants this year.

Boswell hasn't kicked in a pro game, and for that the Steelers are throwing away Scobee.

I liked and even pushed for the signing of Scobee, so perhaps I'm biased. He's a 12th-year veteran with a proven strong leg who had made 81 percent of his career kicks before missing four of 10 this season with the Steelers. I thought it was only a matter of time before he got untracked.

But Scobee missed two potential game-winners into the South end zone Thursday night and wasn't given the chance to kick what would've been a 50-yarder to win the game.

It could've been the turning point Scobee needed. Instead, the Steelers put the game in the hands of a quarterback who had only been through a couple of walk-throughs as their starter.

To me, the move smacks of scapegoating, or at the least an overreaction to a tough loss.

* Yes, the Steelers have found young kickers in the past. Gary Anderson is the shining example. He was claimed off waivers and only became the greatest kicker in team history. Perhaps Boswell can be that guy. At least his kickoffs should be consistently deep. I just don't like the risk of an unproven placekicker at this point.

* No, Boswell can't do much worse than Scobee. But it's all about the next kick.

* What happened to Jarvis Jones? The 2013 first-round draft pick was taken out of the OLB rotation with 5:30 left in regulation and didn't return. James Harrison and Arthur Moats took on larger roles at ROLB, with Harrison in on a handful of short-yardage tackles. Harrison had previously flushed Joe Flacco to begin the fumble sequence to Ross Cockrell, and on very late plays put his helmet into Flacco's stomach and then sacked Flacco and came up with the ball, although ruled down.

Those are the types of plays Jones needs to make, particularly against reserve tackles such as James Hurt. Jones is instead last in the four-man rotation with 117 snaps to Harrison's 162 (Dupree 146, Moates 127).

It's obviously not what the Steelers want to see in their former first-rounder behind the 37-year-old Harrison. They surely don't want to have to draft another pass-rusher.

* The problem with the playcalling, to put it another way, is the Steelers just don't go for the jugular. I think we all know what that means: too cute, not willful enough. They need an adult with brute confidence in some of the guys who deserve a conviction of belief.

Yes, more conviction, less intelligence.

* Other than Jones not blossoming as a playmaker, there's much to like about the Steelers defense. But there's still another issue: The drive that turned the game around for the Ravens was built on running against the Steelers' nickel.

It's obvious opponents don't have much success running against the Steelers' base defense and nose tackle Steve McLendon. But the Steelers counter 3-WR formations by taking McLendon out and bringing in an extra cornerback. That's when the Ravens gashed them in that six-play, 80-yard drive which turned the game around.

As fans were still reveling in the Darrius Heyward-Bey touchdown for a 20-7 lead, the Steelers stopped the Ravens for a three-yard gain, but went nickel and allowed 77 yards and a touchdown in five plays. Stretch plays right and left produced the biggest runs against a Steelers nickel that didn't always include Cam Thomas -- in case we're looking for another scapegoat.

* Another question put to me post-game was why no Brandon Boykin?

Well, the Steelers, like most teams, prefer bigger, more rugged cornerbacks. My guess is they feel Boykin's too small and Antwon Blake's too physical and they want to give Blake a full look. And in that leaky nickel, any help against the run is desired.

Even Cockrell, an intriguing 6-footer, is ahead of Boykin, and again Cockrell probably got the first look because of his size. He's making plays with those opportunities, too.

* Dri Archer smashed his NFL career long kickoff return with a 31-yarder to start overtime. He ran hard and with purpose and gave the Steelers better field position than his 18.3 average coming in. Nice sign. Not a convincing one, but it's a half-step forward.


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