PITTSBURGH -- He can't be their Rookie of the Year, but Chris Boswell would win Pittsburgh Steelers First-Year Player of the Year if there was such an award. At the very least he's the team's Most Pleasant Surprise.
Boswell is coming off a 4-for-4 kicking performance against the Cincinnati Bengals that gave him 24 field goals in 26 attempts this season. He's one field goal shy of tying Kris Brown's rookie/first-year team record of 25 field goals in 1999. Boswell will also become the third rookie/first-year kicker in team history to score 100 points in a season with 10 more points. The others are Brown (105) and Matt Bahr (104 in 1979).
Boswell hasn't even played the last three games after missing the first four, but it's not just quantity for Boswell, who's converted 92.3 percent of his attempts to rank third on the team's all-time list behind Shaun Suisham (93.8 percent in 2013) and Gary Anderson (93.3 percent in 1993).
Boswell also has a strong leg, as his two 51-yard field goals attest. He's missed only from 41 and 47 yards, and each was in a game the Steelers won.
"I don't really pay attention to it too much right now," Boswell said of the statistics. "I hear about it here and there but I'll take a look at all that stuff at the end of the year. I don't want to get caught up in it and start paying attention to it now and start worrying about stats. I just want to worry about one kick at a time, and make it."
The 24-year-old is ice on the field, and he was also unfazed by adversity off it. Boswell was cut by the Houston Texans as a rookie last year and then by the New York Giants this year. The Steelers, struggling with injuries and ineffectiveness at the position, signed Boswell following a tryout at Heinz Field on Oct. 3. He has stepped in and performed as if he's been kicking in the league all his life.
"Honestly I don't think I was ready last year," said the Forth Worth native. "I'm still not where I want to be right now, mechanics-wise and with my footwork. I kind of took last year as my redshirt year and worked on little things that would help me a lot. Kicking with Josh Brown up in New York really fine-tuned a lot of things, just watching him, picking up stuff that he does, him talking to me, watching film and stuff like that. But I believe that not making it last year was definitely a good thing for me because I don't believe I was ready for it."
(To read a transcript of Boswell's interview, click to the South Side message board.)
BERRY, BERRY GOOD
Boswell isn't the only first-year surprise on the team, or even in his position group. First-year punter Jordan Berry is also coming off an exceptional game in Cincinnati and is also approaching some team standards.
The Australian-born Berry only punted twice last Sunday but both led to Steelers points. His first punt sailed 45 yards and dropped dead at the Cincinnati 2 with the help of his backward "Aussie Roll." The Bengals went three-and-out and the Steelers, with the field position, added a field goal for a 16-7 lead right before the half.
Berry's second punt of 53 yards wasn't returned and "flipped the field" from the 20 to the 27. The Bengals went three-and-out to lead to a Steelers field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"I was pretty happy with the performance," said Berry. "Obviously when you hit this level you get real picky with yourself and try to be absolutely perfect and the balls weren't exactly where I wanted, but in terms of distance and hang time I was very happy with both of those aspects of the kicks."
Berry's gross (42.4) and net (38.8) punting averages nearly match those of last year's punter, Brad Wing, but more importantly Berry is third in the NFL in dropping 46.8 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line. That's the highest percentage in Steelers team records that trace back to 1976. And he's only knocked one punt into the end zone for a touchback. Berry's ratio of 22-to-1 for punts-inside-the-20 to touchbacks is challenging Daniel Sepulveda's unofficial team-record ratio of 28-to-2 set in 2007.
"I started off well but as the season had to go on I sort of wore out," Berry said. "That bye week really helped me out. It was sort of a refresher."
(To read a transcript of Berry's interview, click to the South Side message board.)
DOESN'T DOUBT DENVER DEFENSE
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley didn't blink when asked if the Denver Broncos have the NFL's best defense.
"Yeah, without a doubt," Haley said. "Statistics back it up. They are really strong in all areas, starting up front. They have arguably the best individual pass rusher in Von Miller. DeMarcus Ware is over there. They have a couple of other good ones in Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray. I was in Dallas when we drafted DeMarcus. What a player he has been for a long time. They have good inside linebackers. Their secondary has no regard for their bodies. They will fly in there. They are hitters. They play tight man-to-man coverage. They are a good group."
The Broncos rank first defensively in yardage per game (273), points per game (17.3), rushing yards per carry (3.3), passing yards per game (188) and sacks (44), are second in passing yards per attempt (6.1) and passer rating (75.5), and third in rushing yards per game (84).
NO PEYTON, BUT STILL WORRIES
Peyton Manning will remain sidelined as Brock Osweiler quarterbacks the Broncos on Sunday, but that doesn't mean Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler is sleeping well this week.
Butler was asked if he still has nightmares about Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
"You’re talking about the playoffs, aren’t you?" Butler said of the 80-yard catch and run by Thomas that ended the Steelers 2011 season. "It was a zero (coverage) blitz. He catches it and takes off. I always talk about when they run those types of screens, (to) always try to get over the top of the screens and get it back to what I call the cavalry. The cavalry are the guys who are turning and running to the ball after the ball is thrown -- the defensive line, the linebackers who rush the quarterback, all that stuff, the corners from the other side, the safeties from the other side. The cavalry is coming. We have to get it back to the cavalry. Unfortunately, in that situation we were committed to a zero blitz and we didn’t get it back to the cavalry. He took off and ran off and that was the one play in overtime. We have to make sure we don’t do anything like that. Hopefully we don’t."
GOLDEN VS. OLD RIVAL
Don't mind when Steelers safety @Robert Golden grimaces if you ask him if he used to play with Osweiler.
"Never," Golden growled. "He played at Arizona State."
Golden of course played for the University of Arizona, and he remembers the 6-foot-8 Osweiler well.
"We beat him my senior year," said Golden. "My junior year, let's not talk about."
Osweiler quarterbacked both games and completed a combined 58 of 109 passes for 754 yards. He was drafted in the second round in 2012 by the Broncos and is 3-1 as Manning's replacement the last four games.
Golden, who intercepted his first career pass last Sunday as Mike Mitchelll's replacement at free safety for the Steelers, could face Osweiler again on Sunday because Mitchell has missed both practices this week with a shoulder injury.
"I feel it's an advantage for our defense, especially when you're doing a lot of QB reading," Golden said. "He's a tall statue so you can definitely see him and definitely know where he's going with the ball at all times because he's so visual back there. But he's a good quarterback. He can make all the throws. He's got the strong arm. We just have to be combative and go out there and do what we do."
Also missing Thursday's practice for the Steelers was running back DeAngelo Williams with an illness while strong safety Will Allen was given the afternoon off. Linebacker Bud Dupree (back) returned in a limited capacity.