In this week’s film study of this past Sunday’s Browns vs. Steelers game, let’s take a look at an area of concern on the punt protection unit on special teams. We’re going to look at the team’s first three punts to see what went wrong.
On the first punt, No. 54 (LB L.J. Fort) lined up behind No. 44 (LB Tyler Matakevich) who ends up blocking the punt. Pre-snap, long snapper Charley Hughlett points at Ford two times. After the snap, he gives a slight chip to Matakevich, but mentally looks like he’s set on blocking Fort the entire way. RB Matthew Dayes, the team’s new personal protector this year, is also keyed in on Fort.
We know that there was a miscommunication between these two. Many have assumed that Dayes was to blame, but based on Hue Jackson’s comments the other day, he seemed to pin it on someone whose been doing this for awhile now, which would point the crosshairs at Hughlett.
On the Browns’ next punt, the Steelers line up in a similar manner. This time, there is no pre-snap pointing. Hughlett blocks Matakevich right away, and Dayes picks up Fort (albeit not the best of blocks).
This is Cleveland’s third punt of the game. This time, Pittsburgh throws a different look at the Browns. Dayes stays in long enough to ensure no one is coming up the middle, so he releases. But S Derrick Kindred on the right edge whiffs on his cut block, nearly allowing a defender, who got a fantastic jump on the snap, to block the punt. Fortunately, Britton Colquitt was aiming left with this punt -- and I only say that because that is the direction the coverage units headed before seeing where the ball was punted.
Sometimes, these things are easier to correct. Other times, they become a recurring problem. A few years ago, the Browns had a handful of field goals tipped or blocked. Back in 2010, the San Diego Chargers had five punts blocked. Both of those years, I’m sure the special teams units worked hard in practice at improving their craft, but either the communication or the personnel just weren’t a good fit. And once teams smell blood in the water, they keep coming.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t review any other punts during the game with NFL Gamepass, because the videos were not working every time I clicked on a punt. Just one of many glitches on the All-22 this year.