Monday, September 13, 2010

In Defense of Randle El

A good bit has been made about Randle El returning punts yesterday. This has been muted, mostly by the fact that the Steelers won, but still the rumble is out there, and will probably get a bit larger as we go on.

The usual argument I've been hearing is that Emmanuel Sanders has much more potential and at this stage in his career is a better option to get us good field position than Antwaan Randle El. That argument is probably true. I have little doubt that El's days as a dynamic, dangerous return man are pretty much over.

That argument leaves out something though. That something is Ricardo Colclough. Colclough was a very green punt returner going into a game vs. Cincinnati, with the Steelers nursing a small lead all he had to do was not turn the ball over. Instead he took a punt that was over his head and tried to catch it backing up, the ball bounced off his face mask in the Red Zone where Cincy recovered it and scored on the resulting drive, winning the game.

Yesterday the Steelers were starting a young, inexperienced, and unimpressive quarterback. A quarterback not capable of overcoming a ton of mistakes, and a quarterback who was probably not likely to head a large comeback. Randle El is sure handed, and will usually make the correct decision on a punt. He has enough experience that he will not go out and dive for a punt, or let one clang off his helmet. He knows when to let them go and when to fair catch.

Sure he may not set us up with great field position, but he probably won't set the Falcons up with an almost guaranteed three points by turning over the ball.

Besides the Steelers have the best defense in the league to help get field position, and they once again proved they can be relied on. In keeping the Falcons out of the endzone they did more than anyone to prop up Dennis Dixon. Troy Polamalu's interception is what you expect of a player of his caliber and we have enough elite player that turnovers of that nature are not an unreasonable expectation on a regular basis.

So it's a trade off in the sense that while Sanders, or maybe Antonio Brown might break one, or at least set us up with decent field position, there is also a very good chance they muff one, or make a bad decision about fair catch, or letting one fall. At the same time our defense can do it's job and set Dixon up with good field position anyway, so it pays to play conservative on special teams because the Offense is fragile at this point and a Special Teams mistake (looking at you Jeff Reed) could very well be the difference between a win and a loss.

And these wins are crucial.

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